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Eric Red Recommends #9

04.13.2006by: Eric Red



Director: William Friedkin..

Writers: Walon Green.. Based on the novel by George Arnaud.

Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri.


Remakes are the flavor of the month these days and mostly a four letter word to horror fans and filmmakers alike.  Director John Huston had it right when he said people should just remake the bad films they didn’t get right the first time.  I myself have two of my films in the remake pipeline, “THE HITCHER” and “NEAR DARK,” which is surreal because we only made them a few years ago and when we did the goal was to do something original, which is always more exciting to me.

But as remakes go, “SORCERER” is the textbook example of what a great remake should be…a full reimagining.  It is based on the classic H.G. Clouzot thriller “THE WAGES OF FEAR” (the first film I reviewed on the site) about four desperate men on a suicide mission to drive two trucks full of explosive nitro glycerin through the jungle to blow out an oil fire.  One bump will blow them to smithereens.  Directed by William Friedkin (“THE EXORCIST” and “THE FRENCH CONNECTION”), this is a spellbinding exercise in pure visual filmmaking. 

 “SORCERER” succeeds as a similar yet totally different experience from the first film.  While the storyline remains the same, every action scene is new or changed, every character is reinvented, and the original was in black and white, but the remake is in color.  The original provided no back-story for any of the characters, but the remake spends almost an hour setting them up…

For first part of the film, the action jumps internationally across the globe.  We are introduced to four desperate criminals and shown why they each must flee their countries to the asshole of the world to ultimately become the drivers of the trucks of deadly explosives…In Jerusalem, a Palestinian terrorist (Amidou) blows up a bus, narrowly escaping a machine gun retaliation raid on his hide out by the Israeli military that mows down his accomplices…In New Jersey, a small time hood, (Roy Scheider) and his gang rob the local church bingo game, shooting a parish priest in a botched getaway that ends in a terrifying and bloody car crash. 

Scheider escapes, but too bad for him the priest’s brother turns to out to be the local mafia don who puts out a worldwide contract on Roy’s ass…In Paris, an upper class French embezzler (Bruno Cremer) under investigation by the authorities sees his last chance evaporate when his partner commits suicide by blowing his brains out.  Like “WAGES,” the four walls of this cynical film are an existential, upside down and hopeless universe where priests are brothers to mobsters, you have to blow up explosions with nitro and there’s no escape for anyone.  In Friedkin’s quest for cinematic reality, he cast as the leader of the Jersey thugs the actual Boston gangster who went to prison for the real life church robbery the scene was based on. 

The film presents us blatantly unredeemable main characters, attempting to make them sympathetic by pure audience involvement in their sweaty moment-to-moment survival during their impossible mission.  It’s a risky gambit by the director that will work for some viewers but alienate others.  Roy Scheider, who I directed in “COHEN AND TATE,” told me he hated the film for just that reason.  Friedkin now says Roy was miscast!  

These fugitives, along with an aging and cunning South American hit man, end up broke and homeless in a sweltering hellhole oil company town in the depths of the South American jungle called Porvenir.  It’s Hell and they all deserve to be there.  And in Hell, there are flames.  A distant oilrig explodes.  The only way for the company foreman (Ramon Bieri) to put out the fire is to blast it out with nitro.  Trouble is the cache of explosives is 200 miles from the rig, it’s too unstable to be choppered in, so it has to be driven by truck.  For that, he needs men desperate enough to take the job.  If you’ve seen the original, you know the story.  The company offers a bounty if four men will drive the two trucks of nitro across brutal jungle to the oil fire.  The guys get the job, and the excitement begins…

“SORCERER” has one of the most awe-inspiring action sequences ever filmed, by itself worth watching the film for.  The trucks and drivers must cross a raging river over a vast and rickety rope bridge.  Hurricanes of rain, rogue trees, snapping bridge slats, slipping tires and slowly fraying ropes impede their grueling progress through a storm seemingly summoned by angry Gods.  Supposedly taking three months to film, watching this incredibly convincing and mythical bridge sequence you just know no CGI was used and it was all shot live with amazing real stunts.  That’s true moviemaking.

In another valuable change from “THE WAGES OF FEAR,” there’s a gripping sequence where the guys have to rebuild several truck wrecks to get them in working order and load the nitro by cable.  It’s a great directorial touch that the decrepit trucks in this movie look like mechanical monsters or rusted Pagan demons.  The headlights are staring eyes, the grills resemble fanged mouths, and they look like faces.  The film enhanced immeasurably by the moody, eerie electronic score by Tangerine Dream, which gave us the idea to use these composers in “NEAR DARK.”

They really don’t make films like this or “APOCALYPSE NOW” anymore, where productions shoot for a year, take three months to film a single action sequence, and no expense is spared.  Today, the average Hollywood film shoots for 45 days, and most horror films have 24 day schedules or less!   That’s plenty enough time if the director knows what he’s doing.  On one hand, “SORCERER” is a throwback of an indulgent kind of filmmaking, but on the other, they got stuff up on screen you just don’t see in other movies.

A gigantic production that reputedly cost 100 million dollars to film, “SORCERER” was a commercial failure on its release (‘WAGES” ironically was a hit) but gets better with age.  It is a long and uncompromising film that makes few concessions in terms of pace and character likeability, but has truly jaw-dropping action scenes, vivid and primal location photography and genuine moments of white-knuckle suspense.  A hell of a piece of film, “SORCERER” will grab you in its gritty, epic grip.





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