We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.
Director: John Boorman
Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, and Ned Beatty
It's pretty amazing when you go back and watch a film that created a universal fear of something. George Romero made us fear the undead. Halloween made us fear the boogeyman. Jaws created a planet fearful of sharks. John Boorman’s 1972 masterpiece Deliverance made everyone deathly fearful of three things: the deep woods, hillbillies, and (most of all) hillbilly rape. Sure, no one ever wants to be chewed by a great white or a zombie, but there’s something about isolation in the woods. There’s something about a group of dudes who just wanna reconnect with nature but only find torture and death. That’s something frightening, and if Deliverance added to pop culture it was to not just fear the woods, but the people within them.
Under the examination: Deliverance.
Armpit hair helps shoot an arrow. It's true. Look it up.
THE STORY: “Where you going, city boy?” A group of friends decides to reconnect by going canoeing in the deep woods of Georgia. It's a chance to say hello to nature and have some laughs. This is their only chance, too, because the Cahulawassee River will soon cease to exist. It’ll soon be dammed up. The four pals are a mixed foursome led by the manly man Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the pipe smoking, even-balanced Ed (Jon Voight), doughy and bitchy Bobby (Ned Beatty), and guitar-playing ethos Drew (Ronny Cox). What starts as a perfect man vacation ends up being a tale of survival and a warning to anyone who decides they need a dose of Mother Nature.
WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Ok, so nothing is more badass and manly than Reynolds in his prime, sporting a black vest and firing off arrows like Green Arrow (or the Marvel rip-off Hawkeye). Even as man as Reynolds is here, I’ve always found it interesting that film avoided the obviousness of allowing Reynolds to save his helpless city friends from any and every danger. Director Boorman lets the viewers know asap that only Reynolds knows the outdoors. If there’s a question or a noise in the darkness, all three look toward Reynolds for comfort. But by taking him out with one nasty broken thigh bone, Boorman never let allowed any character to act outside the realm of possibility. What I mean is that even though Reynolds pimps a vest and shoots a man dead, he’s not immune to his actions. Sure, he’s never shown crying in the corner underneath the shade of a Weeping Willow, but he also can’t fight rapids. By taking his character out, I like that Voight suddenly must “man up” even though after my first viewing of years I’ve notice an issue (but I’ll discuss that below).
A lot of Deliverance still holds up…from the action, to the acting, to the gore…even if the story is as thin as a 13-year-old boy’s mustache, which clearly is pretty thin. To start, the action doesn’t unfold at a Fast and the Furious kinda of rate, however, I don’t know about the rest of you but I find the 1970s pacing much more entertaining. Scenes can develop without needing a jump cut every .053458 seconds. In fact, there isn’t a lot of action in the film, but when it does happen, it happens as seen when the foursome battle the river’s rapids. No CGI. Hell, no stunt men here as all four leads performed their own stunts. Even better, I love how director Boorman builds tension in two specific scenes. The first is the most obvious as Voight and Beatty are abducted and the infamous “squeal like a pig” moment was born. That scene alone makes the film even though we’re just watching pure brutality, but it’s their escape and overcoming these hillbillies that make the film. The second is when Voight attempts to apply “friendship revenge” and is hesitant to kill. His hands shake while a redneck attempts to ready his shotgun. It’s a great scene.
And I'm not for sure what’s so fantastic about the opening dueling banjo sequence. It's really a beautiful cinematic moment that plays real and authentic. By casting "real" folk, it gave the movie a damn near documentary vibe. What we see seems real. It's almost as if Reynolds, Voight and company were dropped off in the woods without any rehearsal. Well, maybe not that but still it feels close.
Squeel like a pig reminds me of an old Kids in the Hall sketch. Look it up……..
WHAT BLOWS NOW: First, a few annoying things that blow. 1) In our shitty PC world, I'm sure many a folk find this movie offensive. It's not exactly aiming a positive spotlight on the South. ‘Nuff said. 2) When Ronnie Cox serenades the group during campfire time, I can't help but replay that Animal House scene and wish John Belushi would have appeared and smashed his guitar. It's obnoxious.
Those, however, are just minor annoyances. My major complaint about comes from the script. The plot here, while simple on purpose, doesn’t have much going for it. In case we’re too dumb to understand the action, writer James Dickey made sure to explain the little things in life to us. “Did you ever look out over a lake and thing of somethin’ buried underneath it?” In the end, I have to ask what’s this movie about? I dig the grittiness of the film, the meanness of it, but if I had to attach a “theme” to it, I’d wager survival and perhaps nothing more. The men really don’t learn anything at the end expect how to survive. They have to be willing to kill to do that which makes the story really about Ed, the average Joe (which in comparison to Reynolds, they all look average) who acts as their guardian. This leads to my next my main issue. Why didn’t Beatty get his revenge? Shouldn’t he be the one seeking retaliation for being raped in the middle of the woods? Having him remain on the sidelines isn’t as interesting. He, more than anyone, needed to get some revenge.
THE VERDICT: Deliverance launched Burt into the world of A movie star, which is pretty impressive considering he forgot his famous mustache at home in the sock drawer for this production. This was also Ned Beatty's first movie and one of Cox's first!
Obviously, Deliverance isn't a horror film but I doubt many films have ever equaled the level of chaos and carnage as seen here. No this isn't a kill a second kind of film and yeah it's dated in terms of look and pacing, but few movies maintain watchability. It takes 40 minutes for Voight and Beatty to ruin into the ’necks, but damn it that's still an intense scene. Few things are more pain inducing than poor Beatty having to squeal like a pig. It could be the most painful movie moment ever.