Sorcerer ★★★★½

A lot of people think that the best actor of the 1970s is Robert De Niro or Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino, but they are wrong, when it is so self-evidently Roy Scheider. Scheider is at his very best in Sorcerer, happily as part of an ensemble, as William Friedkin pinballs around the world, putting short stories together before remaking a lean version of The Wages of Fear.

Getting this out of the way first, Sorcerer is not as good as The Wages of Fear, it doesn't have the tension, or the depth. However, it is still a great film, and what it has in bundles, that the earlier film does not is relentless nihilism.

Sorcerer is as bleak and gritty, dark and troubling, as any film made in the 1970s. It is pure, undistilled, Friedkin. The flies, the heat, the swamps, the rain, the ending. Nothing looks pleasant. Your protagonists are bankers, terrorists, Nazis, armed-robbers, while an oil company pollutes and destroys the jungle in the background. It is an unrelenting vision of untrammelled darkness. Never more 1970s.

Scheider carries the stoic pessimism in his face, which looks like it was flattened, before being carved on a lathe. It is a testament to Scheider that he was willing to allow a film to be given over to other character actors, for such prolonged periods, of these it is Bruno Cremer's failed investment banker that resonates so deeply.

Tangerine Dream provide the stunning soundtrack, that defines the film and is one of their great contributions to cinema. It pulses with menace, allowing Friedkin to dart around his plot, while maintaining tension. In addition to the Tangerine Dream soundscape, we get tracks from Keith Jarrett, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. That is the kind of sound design I can get behind.

Sorcerer is a great watch. It is 120 minutes, with most of the first hour being given over to set-up, while the second hour is the ratcheted tension of the trucks going over rope bridges, and through jungle that Werner Herzog may have decided to take a pass on. Like Fitzcarraldo but the boat could explode at any second.

A quite brilliant piece of cinema.

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