Sorcerer ★★★★★

The usual line of attack against The Wages of Fear is that it takes too long to get going, with a lot of wheel-spinning and artless political supertext taking up too much time before the action starts. I love Wages, but I have to admire Friedkin's dodge here, opening on 20 minutes or so of pure crosshatched nastiness, setting up each of his characters' circumstances not so much to explain why they would agree to take on such a dangerous mission but to establish that the world is so inescapably terrible that you might as well go out with a bang anyway. It's as edgy as any of the explosive set-pieces that come later, so much so that the rare shot that DOESN'T have something horrible happening in it begins to stand out.

Which brings us to the good stuff - two trucks loaded up with enough nitroglycerin to blow up a small Latin American country and headed across 200 miles of impossible terrain. This is, in my opinion, the greatest suspense scenario ever devised for the movies, and Friedkin squeezes out of it almost as much tension as Clouzot does, with the substantial bonus of hallucinogenic terror. Friedkin's signature "induced documentary" style slowly mutates into something closer to Apocalypse Now era Coppola or Herzog, a nightmare that you couldn't blow up with all the nitro on Earth.

Another edge this has over Clouzot is in the cast - namely, Roy Scheider, who plays his role like Fred C. Dobbs without the charm, and by the end has the most convincing thousand-yard-stare I've ever seen in a movie. Despite all the behind-the-camera hubris and unlimited resources on display, Scheider carries the dramatic weight, and it's his breakdown that registers even more strongly than the torrential downpours and massive explosions. But oh, what explosions.

Seriously considering going to see this again tomorrow.

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