Release Date: June 24, 1977
Runtime: 121 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures / Universal Pictures
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Roy Scheider; Bruno Cremer; Francisco Rabal; Amidou
God bless the Film Forum! If it wasn’t for this extraordinary little theater on W. Houston, special engagements of overlooked movies like “Sorcerer” might never be seen on the big screen again, relegated to not-exactly-the-same laptop viewing.
A reimagining of the classic French thriller “The Wages of Fear,” William Friedkin’s follow up to his groundbreaking and genre-defining “The Exorcist” was an ambitious flop back in 1977. The victim of shifting tastes in popular entertainment at the dawn of the blockbuster era, as well as timing (it opened a weekend before “Star Wars,” the phenomenal success of which immediately shattered any chance it had at success), “Sorcerer” has thankfully enjoyed a resurgence in critical acclaim over the years, and rightfully so. While not a perfect movie, it nonetheless fits very much within Friedkin’s oeuvre of hyper-intense, challenging work. Shit, movies don’t get much more intense than this!
Four down-on-their-luck men from four different counties find themselves holing up in a hellhole of a South American village as a way of escaping their respective pasts. Desperate for money and a way out of their predicament, they each accept a job offer to transport cases of highly volatile nitroglycerin across the most rugged terrain this side of The Eagle on a Saturday night. One tiny bump in the road could send all these guys to smitherines-ville. But the pay is good and desperate times call for desperate measures.
The movie takes a little time to get going in the beginning as it’s providing some background exposition for each main character. We meet Nilo (Francisco Rabal), a Mexican hit man; Kassem (Amidou), an Israeli terrorist fleeing a bombing which he’s responsible for; Serrano (Bruno Cremer) a French banker escaping a potential scandal; and Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider), a New Jersey thug whose gang was behind the theft of a church. The movie’s first hour is made up of each introductory scenario, followed by detailing the men’s new lives in their South American refuge, a destitute village populated with locals with no teeth, corrupt police, and lots and lots of rain. The second hour, when the men start their journey, is when things pick up. And boy do they pick up!
No one stages edge-of-your-seat theatrics like William Friedkin. From his famous car chase through New York City streets in ‘The French Connection” and most of the scenes in “The Exorcist,” Mr. Friedkin brings an energy and an almost orgiastic fervor to his action set pieces. In typical Friedkin fashion, the centerpiece of “Sorcerer” is a particularly hair-raising sequence set on a rickety old bridge, the kind of bridge that only exists in movies, where entire planks are missing and the thing looks like the tiniest drop of a branch could cause it to collapse entirely. Of course, these guys must navigate their trucks containing the explosives across the bridge during a particularly violent storm. I would love to see the hazard-pay line item in their paychecks!!
The scene is extraordinary. I dare you not to have your eyes glued to the screen. As a matter of fact, I glanced around the darkened auditorium and each and every person was fixated on the screen; not one person shifted in their seat. It was as though everyone had been turned to stone all of a sudden. This was one hell of a filmmaking feat. The sequence alone is worth the price of admission.
Aside from Friedkin’s superb direction, the acting by an international cast of actors is uniformly excellent, no easy achievement considering the abuse Friedkin puts them through. Scheider, a major star at the time, carries the film, but at the same time, is very much part of the ensemble. The three other actors (Rabal, Amidou, Cremer) are the only other characters of any substance and all are uniformly terrific.
If you are a fan of Friedkin’s work, which is definitely variable (yes, there is “The French Connection,” “The Exorcist” and “Bug”…but there is also “The Guardian” and “Cruising”), this one is a must-see. An overlooked and unfairly criticized film at the time of its release, “Sorcerer” deserves a second look. See it, and prepare to be left breathless.