Sorcerer ★★★½

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William Friedkin was pretty adamant that Sorcerer was NOT a remake of The Wages Of Fear.

"No!" he may have harrumphed. "It's my version of the original book, goddammit!" he probably didn't bellow. I don't really know why he cared, to be honest. I mean, if you're going to do an adaptation of a book that has already been filmed twice before (the latter time for the little known 1958 American film Violent Road - anybody know where I can see this?) then you are going to get people making these suggestions.

Friedkin clearly is being led by what he sees in the original film, though. Even though the basic plot is the same of four gringos being asked to drive some unstable nitro-glycerine over 200km of treacherous South American terrain to an out-of-control oil well fire, it did seem to me as though he was at pains to make things as different from the original as he could possibly get away with. The fact that the dangerously sexy Vera Clouzot is replaced by a much older woman is the most telling one.

The main problem with The Wages Of Fear, aside from its amazingly ill-judged final reel, was the opening hour really does feel as though it drags. Here, we get the back stories of the gentlemen who will be undertaking the journey and I think that rather than being mere window-dressing, it works well. We actually see the individual motivations for these characters rather than them all being faceless foreigners who just want some money to get out of the hell-hole they are seemingly trapped in. The build-up to the main action in the film feels more fluid.

As well-paced as that is, once the trucks start moving then the pace of the film is all over the place and unless I turned narcoleptic during the film, the editing and continuity was really odd and made no sense. How come we only see one truck going across the first bridge? How come we only see half the trek across the second bridge by the second truck and then we don't see if it actually makes it? Why do the drivers of the second truck, when the first is stopped in its tracks by a fallen tree, approach on foot? Where is their truck?

To be honest, it's a total mess but thanks to at least three brilliantly orchestrated set-pieces, it's also totally compelling. Friedkin should count himself lucky - without these set pieces, his hallucinogenic end driving stretch, as haunting as it is, would look slightly ridiculous. He also pulls off a bravura final shot which is far more convincingly bleak than the 'face-palm' moment that ends The Wages Of Fear.

It's a strange film in the way it ebbs and flows, and in some ways, looking at how haphazard the second half is, it probably could have done with being as long as Henri-Georges Clouzot's original. The Tangerine Dream soundtrack, which is typically excellent and far less misplaced than the last time I heard them scoring a film in The Keep, is probably what the film has become noted for in many quarters, but spare a thought for Roy Scheider.

As I've commented in several reviews since I joined Letterboxd, what an amazing 1970s this man had. That this is far from being his best performance is not even slightly down to the quality of his display here, but more to do with the fact that he appeared to great acclaim in several genuine classics in the decade. He was an extremely impressive actor for a number of years there until it all went wrong, somewhere and somehow, in the 1980s.

He claimed that making Sorcerer made his experiences shooting Jaws seem like a walk in the park. But it's that dangerous and almost reckless approach that drags the film out of its problematic areas and helps it become a tense and very entertaining thriller in its own right.

Steve G liked these reviews