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Sorcerer

Director: William Friedkin

USA - 1972

    Hoff! Hoff!    

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Considering the current fanaticism over Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, one might surmise that I may try to capitalize on the nuttiness with a review of a fantasy flick. Well, I hate to bust your bubble, but Sorcerer has absolutely notWilliams!hing to do with wizards, Bilbo Baggins, the Sword of Damocles, or anything else of that nature. So please, don't let me interrupt your costume preparation for next year's Renaissance Festival:

"I'm going as Pandar! Half man! Half panda! Keeper of the Sacred Shield of Feces Forest!"

Besides, how can I, in clear conscience, promote something like Harry Potter? Every law-abiding, God-fearing fundamentalist knows that chocolate frogs are the minions of Lucifer! 

Sorcerer has nothing to do with Beelzebub, and little to do with chocolate frogs. Itís about four men on the lam: one for murder; one for a terrorist bombing; one for embezzlement; and Roy Scheider for Jaws 4*.

I kid!

Roy is actually sought for robbing a church. To make matters worse, the Scheider gang kill a priest in the process. To even further complicate the situation, itís soon discovered that the church is run by the Mob; the dead priest, of course, being the Don's brother. That Roy! He gets into more wacky predicaments than Zack from Saved By the Bell!

So the felons escape to South America. Of all the places they couldíve escaped to, Our Heroes choose the dirtiest, nastiest town in the western hemisphere. Perhaps the planet. Maybe even the unMatilda in an odd cameo.iverse (excluding, of course, Uranus). There must've been some sort of county ordinance proclaiming that everyone and everything within city limits had to be caked in approximately one inch of mud (at least I hope that was mud).

Roy assumes the pseudonym of Juan Dominguez and gets a job at the local oil refinery.

Juan Dominguez?

Couldn't he have picked a better name than that? I'm sorry, but Roy Scheider looks as Hispanic as Dick Van Patten. I think the whole rationale behind a pseudonym is to keep a low profile. If someone looking like Roy Scheider introduced himself to me as Juan Dominguez, I would automatically think this guy was either full of it or delusional. At any rate, he would raise suspicion. 

So, it takes RoyÖexcuse me, Juan, approximately five minutes of living in complete squalor to decide that his current abode, for lack of a better term, sucks eggs. But having exhausted his small booty (i.e. money - this isn't a prison film, you know) while escaping the U.S., Dominguez is basically trapped.

Oddly enough, a chance at freedom manifests itself in the form of an uncontrollable fire at the refinery. Apparently, the only way to extinguish a blaze of such magnitude is through carefully-calculated explosions. But as luck would have it, the dynamite required for such an endeavor has been sitting in storage so long that the nitroglycerine has leaked out of the sticks, culminating into puddles at the bottom of the boxes. To further comIndiana Royplicate matters, said dynamite is inconveniently located three hundred miles away from the blaze! Now where could they possibly find four idiots desperate for money, with nothing to lose, who are willing to drive unstable explosives in a rickety truck through the treacherous rain forest?  

Yeah, my first guess was the new Monkees, too. Unfortunately, they werenít on the lam in South America. Dominguez and compadres, of course, take the job. The risk may be great, but the possible payoff canít be passed up. 

Albeit having an interesting premise, Sorcerer begs the question: Why these specific six boxes of dynamite? Are they blessed by the Pope? Would it have been so hard to fly some dynamite in? And perhaps the most important question: Why settle for explosives which are not only three hundred miles away, but could explode if you simply stare at them cross-eyed?

Then again, I suppose if the finale involved someone flying in relatively safe explosives and extinguishing the fire without incident, it might've detracted from the drama just a bit.

Gaping plot holes aside, Sorcerer is a pretty good movie. The acting, for the most part,"I'm gonna whittle me the best Lincoln bust EVER!" is top notch. Roy is convincing as a desperate fugitive (just not so as a desperate Hispanic fugitive).

The highlight of Sorcerer, however, is the filmís look; or more specifically, its feel and mood. As I mentioned before, when Our Heroes are hiding out in Scumville, the locale alone gives the distinct impression of what it may be like to hit absolute rock bottom. Donít even get me started on the townís denizens. When Roy and the gang risk their lives for an unlikely chance at skipping town, I had no doubts that, if given the same situation, I would do the same. It sucked that much.

My favorite example of Friedkinís mastery of mood is the scene where the volatile truck gets stuck on a dilapidated bridge that could collapse at any given moment. Which is going to come first? The explosion, or perhaps a plummeting death? Or perhaps plummeting death followed by an explosion? The pounding jungle rain. The teetering bridge. The immovable, menacing truck. A small, insignificant man surrounded on all sides by impending doom. Itís great cinema like that found in Sorcerer that almost makes me forget about tripe like The Sea Serpent. Almost.

Like most movies (save Michael Bayís dazzling repertoire), Sorcerer is not without its flaws. The film has a tendency to drag a bit at times, and the aforementioned plot inconsistencies are pretty annoying. Nevertheless, I whole-heartedly recommend checking it out.  

(Footnote: Several astute readers have pointed out the fact that I forgot to mention that Sorcerer is a remake of a French (not to mention superior) film entitled Wages of Fear. Thank you for pointing out my oversight.)



 

 

-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman

 

 

 

 

 

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                * Actually, Roy was only used in stock footage. But I won't let mere facts stand in my way!