Sorcerer ★★★★½

It's clear why the film didn't find an audience during its release. Aside from going up against Star Wars, the title is perplexing and the structure is disorienting. There are four prologues, two in foreign languages, where a first act should be. At the point where most movies have established a conflict and a world, we only have four unconnected characters. Sorcerer's central odyssey through the South American jungle doesn't kick off until halfway in, but once you get through every slice of imagery and information, the action pays it all back. This structure is unconventional and not perfect, but it's the main reason I love this movie. The arc from set-up to pay-off is long and dangerous, like a Hail Mary pass.

The movie is instantly identifiable as Friedkin. It's visually raw like The French Connection, but more unforgiving. Our senses are assaulted with sound, aggressive editing, and a whole lot of death. Tangerine Dream adds a layer of weird that seems foreign to what's on screen, but it is a welcome oddity.

The most astounding feature of the film, though, is its harrowing suspense. The jostling of the nitroglycerin boxes and the steadily disassembling rope bridge are classic tools that prove their endurance in frightening people.

Films that highlight utility, ingenuity, and the labor of invention always have a foot in the door to my tastebuds. Sorcerer has lots and lots of that. Many scenes are of men constructing things, with no resources, under a cloud of futility. Friedkin shows these moments without dialogue, just sweat and dirt and a camera aimed at the action.

All in all it's a nasty film. There is no heroism in our characters and the mission means nothing to them. They only want the payday, another opportunity to outrun their doom. Clouzot's The Wages of Fear draws on the same themes of fate as Friedkin's version, but Friedkin finds a political edge with the corruption of their shithole town. The financial desparity is made authentic by the worn faces and stark conditions of the peasants. The desperacy of our characters, the need to get out, is palpable.

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