The Best Movie Critic + TIME

Sorcerer

Justin here with a look at the movie, Sorcerer, which has nothing to do with magic.

Sorcerer was like Reeses candy to me. The director, William Friedkin, made The French Connection, tied with Night of the Hunter for my favorite movie - that’s the chocolate. The movie is adapted from the same source material as one of my other favorite movies, The Wages of Fear, the peanut butter in this equation. I haven’t read the original novel, but I’m guessing that Sorcerer is as much a re-make of the movie as it is an adaptation. Like a Reeses, Sorcerer is awesome and bad for you.

Great remakes don’t try to do the same thing over again. Like a good cover song, they offer new ideas while staying true to the original ones. Sorcerer runs with the great premise of Wages of Fear and adds Friedkin’s own New American Cinema sensibilities to the mix. This is the Friedkin from French Connection moreso than Exorcist. There are no good guys in this movie; just a bunch of rotten dregs assigned an impossible task: transport 6 cases of highly volatile nitroglycerin across some of the most godforsaken terrain on earth.

The movie opens with three unrelated vignettes that provide the back story for our main characters. One is an Israeli terrorist. Another is a business man on the run from the law. The last, played by Roy Scheider needs to hide out from the mob. The three ne’er-do-wells end up in a lousy South American town trying to scrape up enough money to buy fake passports and tickets out. An opportunity presents itself when a nearby oil well blows up. There’s a massive fire that can only be stopped by using the nitroglycerine on the well. The only “safe” way to get the dangerous materials there is by trucking it on jagged roads, across rickety bridges, and through a swamp. The margin of error is zero. One wrong bump and the trucks will be blown sky high.

Friedkin’s best asset in this movie is being able to stand out of the way and let the story happen. He doesn’t quite use the same cold, documentary style that he did in The French Connection, but it’s not far off. At times the desperation and jungle setting evoke Herzog’s Aguirre more than Cluzot’s original. The movie exudes hopelessness and despair from every shot. It also works remarkably well as a meditation on fear and greed. With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Sorcerer feels strangely immediate.

Wages of Fear is a better movie than Sorcerer, but Sorcerer is way cooler. Wages has very French sensibilities, including an amazingly depressing ending. Sorcerer has its own twists while being similar enough to the Wages. Sorcerer handles the opening act better than Wages does; at the very least it’s more streamlined. Wages has better acting and character development though. One thing it doesn't have - a sick score by Tangerine Dream. Owned.

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