Friedkin’s follow-up to The Exorcist might have taken almost forty years to gain the respect it deserves but better late than never. This is a masculine and brutish picture, extremely physical in design and presentation but flavoured with a crackling existential shroud. I’ve seen the film twice now to confirm my feelings about it and even the second time around it hits with a proper wallop.
I love Friedkin’s spartan direction. He wasn’t a showman, he was a master of patience but could still deliver thrills of the most immediate calibre. The film’s colour is deliberate, mixing from jungle greens and twilight blues broken up by the occasional burst of furious orange in the wake of an explosion. Every cut here builds to an absolute. I appreciate the time he takes in setting up the characters, introducing them in their own extended prologues before bringing them together finally about an hour in. A major studio wouldn’t stand for that kind of pacing in this day and age, you can bet your ass, but it is essential to the film’s impact.
Aside from Tangerine Dream’s discordant score, Friedkin’s main instrument is silence. When I think of Sorcerer I think of all the quiet moments – and there are many – and how all of them feel loud and chaotic because of the tension built in. Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou are the film’s heroes and they each come from separate ends of the earth. All of these characters are broken and abandoned. They might as well be dead. Of-course they are the perfect candidates to dance with the devil and drive two trucks of dynamite across the most hellish terrain you could imagine. In their world, life is cheap and death is a fortune. I think of their faces, occasionally intercut with the boxes of nitroglycerin that any moment could blow them off the face of the earth and I think of the silence on the soundtrack. The sound of fate. They each become increasingly worn down, beaten and frenzied. At many points they laugh in the face of death. What have they got to lose? By the end Scheider finds himself in a wasteland and appears to lose his mind and his soul. Once the film’s credits role, it’s not clear that he ever got it back.
The bridge sequence is one of the great set-pieces in film history. It is mostly scored with the sound of battering rain, wind and the increasingly desperate creak of wood and squeaky tires on planks yet, again, when I think of it I almost see it as a silent sequence. Purely cinematic and unbearably tense. Kurosawa would be proud.
I’m pretty in awe of this movie. I’m so shocked it wasn’t embraced upon release because it so perfectly embodies everything great about 70s filmmaking yet, at the time, it was seen as a director’s folly. Even now it feels fresh, modern and primal. The international cast are perfect, only Scheider’s face is recognisable but even he seemed to resist the label of movie-star. It is as genuine as dirt under your fingernails and will make you sweat and occasionally forget to draw breath. It’s close to being a perfect film. A hot-blooded, stare-death-down masterpiece. Give me this over Star Wars any day.