Sorcerer

Sorcerer ★★★★½

Fate can be a very cruel mistress. Such is the case with the four exiles so desperate that they sign up for a suicide mission driving dilapidated trucks 218 miles. The trucks are filled with very sensitive nitro glycerin, and the road is anything but level and smooth.
Friedkin was coming off two giant 70's hits in "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection." Fate seemed to be smiling, and films like "Taxi Driver," "Last Picture Show" and "M*A*S*H" had paved the way for other directors to make more personal statements with the backing of studios. Unfortunately, a little phenomenon known as "Star Wars" just arrived at almost exactly the same time, which put an end to that brief bit of artistic risk taking. Other problems included the name of the film, and I'll admit to being one that assumed a name like "Sorcerer" indicated something a galaxy away from a remake of "Wages of Fear," a film I had neither seen nor heard of at the time. For those who had, and since reviewers probably had, it was found wanting. I don't know why, because if there was any justice, it would have become just as well regarded as films like "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "The Conversation," or "Network." Instead, it died an ignonamous death, never to be heard from again. Until a couple of years ago, when it made its Lazarus-like resurrection from the forgotten film swamp.
I'm not sure whether I prefer Clouzot's decision to simply drop us into the situation with no back stories, or Friedkin's prologue that lets us know what sins had thrust these four men into this bug infested, sweltering purgatory. I think I like both approaches, but there's a lot to be said for just letting us imagine their past transgressions. Regardless, Friedkin is more that capable of not only recreating, and even upping, the tension of the original, he also has a real jungle to work with as opposed to the South of France. Instead of Yves Montand's Mario, we get Roy Scheider's Jackie Scanlon, and a talented group of character actors. Scheider was a star, but not yet one that had the name recognition to carry a major film. No matter because he was on top of his game here, and although Steve McQueen (Friedkin's 1st choice) would have guaranteed more support and better reviews, 40 years later, I'm glad it's Roy and not Steve.
The last nail in "Sorcerer's" coffin was the darkness of the story and the back stories. This is not uplifting filmmaking; there's a lot of death and decay, and corruption. People were obviously looking for cheerful, funny, and romantic action in 1978, not dark gritty, at least not without a big star that comes out on top in the end.
Both films feature edgy, nerve jangling set pieces, both are directed by an artist at the height of his powers, and both feature top a notch cast and excellent cinematography, so yes, both are well worth your buck. The American blu-ray is absolutely bare bones-nothing but the film, and the Region 2 40th Anniversary edition ha an interview with Friedkin and a much cooler cover.

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