Sunday, May 31, 2009

SORCERER (1977) - William Friedkin

Call it a bad case of "white line fever," but this week was all about truckers. Long haulers don't get much screen time these days, and this may be due in part to the first trucker flick I watched -- William Friedkin's Wages of Fear remake Sorcerer.

Stories of a studio stung by cost overruns, collapsed sets, expensive South America location shooting and a director who wouldn't take "no" for an answer have overshadowed this movie's content for decades, putting it in the pantheon of other epic game-changing failures like Heaven's Gate and Waterworld. But the thing is Sorcerer is exceptionally well-made. It's Friedkin working at French Connection caliber levels in his mastery of verite action and suspense. The scene of the trucks crossing a rickety jungle suspension bridge in the pouring rain as it slowly collapses under them is classic suspense filmmaking, on par with Hitchcock's best seat-gripper moments.

Friedkin doesn't much mess with Wages' basic storyline -- desperate group of men transporting highly combustible nitroglycerin by truck -- but adds some nice political elements to the mix (a 70's pre-requisite) and amps the suspense to 11. There is an extended prologue sequence in various countries setting up the main characters which may have been off-putting to some, but, for me, worked as great little short films within themselves. As a friend has reminded me several times over the years, the true strike against Sorcerer and Friedkin's career was not its inflated budget or to-some-cumbersome beginning but its having the grave misfortune of being released the same summer as the original Star Wars.

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