Retro Review: ‘Sorcerer’
During the 1970’s director William Friedkin made two of the most influential films of all time; the French Connection and the Exorcist. But there was one movie he made during this era which tragically floated by unnoticed. A combination of a confusing title and the fact that it was released shortly right after a little movie called Star Wars in 1977 doomed the it at the box office. But in recent years, critics have rediscovered Sorcerer, a gritty action/adventure masterpiece which has garnered a reputation as one of the most notably overlooked cinematic gems.
Four international fugitives living in hiding in a remote South American village, find work courtesy of an American oil company’s operation in the area. Elsewhere in the country, an oil well has explosion is causing untold damage and threatens to spread. A case of dynamite is found which could be used to blow the well shut, but the explosives are old and unstable meaning they need steady drivers to transport the cargo across treacherous terrain to the site of the well. To this end the four fugitives are recruited with the promise of financial reward as well as having their criminal records erased. Of course this is all provided they are able survive the trip. Behind the wheels of two aged and weathered trucks they set out to face the unknown with only themselves and their wits to rely on.
In the first act of the film, William Friedkin takes the time to introduce the audience to the miscreants we will be spending the rest of the movie with. Four separate vignettes show us who these men were and the lives they led as well as the crimes which landed them in the plight they are in now. We have: an international assassin (Nilo), a white-collared criminal (Manzon), a terrorist bomber (Kassem), and an armed robber (Jackie). Most all of them take on new aliases once they arrive in South America but there is no mistaking who they are and why they are there. We do not really relate to any of them, nor should we they are hardened men who are in a sort of purgatory until they can figure out what their next step should be, if there even is a next step.
William Friedkin has proclaimed Sorcerer as probably his favorite movie of all the ones he has worked on. He admits that while it may not have been his “best” it is the one he had absolute creative control over. The idea of four criminals who do not particularly like each other are forced to work together in a matter of life or death provided a rich host of character moments and plot points for the filmmaker to delve into. The director’s fatalistic style is played to perfection in this film as he makes sure we have the feel that our main characters are constantly in danger and could be taken out at any moment without hesitation. Even before they end up in the jungles of South America, Friedkin makes sure we see the noose around them increasingly tighten until they are forced to flee their respective countries.
The task of filming Sorcerer proved every bit as dangerous as one would expect. Demanding realism, Friedkin took his cast and crew into dangerous locations, constantly loosing people to injury and disease throughout the production. This no doubt added to the edge everyone is on while on this adventure through the jungles. While filming the perilous bridge scene, the trucks legitimately fell into the rushing river below forcing the crew to fish people out of the waters. Given that Paramount and Universal were collaborating to finance the film, he put the money from both major studios to work.
Those looking for an uplifting film will not find one here, Sorcerer is a bleak picture where nobody gets nor deserves a happy ending. Even as the film closes it leaves audiences with a cold feeling in the pit of their stomachs with it’s final moments. Though it appeared and disappeared without a blip when it was initially released, over the last four decades it has been rediscovered cinephiles who have played a large role in drawing others to this underrated film.