Sorcerer

Sorcerer ★★★½

It was hard to watch this without constantly comparing it to Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, of which film this was a remake; I'm guessing if I hadn't already seen that, I might have liked this one a bit more. As it was, I found it to be an inferior, though still creditable, adaptation of Arnaud's novel, about a group of men tasked with driving two shipments of nitroglycerin to the site of an oil well blaze. I think where Sorcerer really loses ground to The Wages of Fear is in terms of character development. Friedkin never really allows us to get know any of the four protagonists, so it's hard to feel much for them in the predicaments they get into. This, despite adding a sequence at the beginning of the film which explains how each of the characters end up hiding out in an obscure village in South America. In truth, the explanation isn't really necessary; in Clouzot's film, because the characters talk to each other more, you gradually get to know their back stories without having it explicitly shown. There's more emphasis on action than dialogue in Sorcerer and what dialogue there is is somewhat muffled and difficult to make out at times. Consequently, you're gripped more by the action and the pacing of the film, than by any of the characters.

On the plus side, the cinematography is excellent and you get a real sense of place, from the oppressive heat and torpor of Vera Cruz to the rain-lashed chaos of the jungle. The jungle scenes are especially powerful, as the trucks do battle with the elements. One sequence entirely original to the remake, is the rope bridge crossing, which provides some nail-biting tension. This struggle against the great sorcerer that is nature may be what Friedkin had in mind when he named the movie (obviously one of the trucks also bears the name), but it probably didn't help the film at the box office with moviegoers turning up expecting another supernatural trip in The Exorcist mould and getting instead a grim, unrelenting actioner. That's something Friedkin didn't shy away from: as with Clouzot's film, there isn't a shred of sentimentality; it's admirably gritty throughout - possibly another reason for the film's relative box office failure, but also why it's become something of a cult classic. Tangerine Dream's score - arguably their finest - is another big plus. Overall, I'd say it's an above average remake which is very much worth a watch; just don't expect it to eclipse the original.

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