There’s a moment in the interview with William Friedkin which forms this Blu-ray disc’s only extra in which he insists that Sorcerer is not a remake of The Wages of Fear, the award-winning and highly praised drama directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1953. But given the dedication to Clouzot which ends Sorcerer, this seems a little disingenuous, especially given that some scenes and even shots are identical, and therein lies the big problem with Sorcerer. Once you have seen The Wages of Fear, this is but a pale imitation.
Four unlikeable men on the run for various crimes are forced to flee their homelands and end up in a godforsaken filthy South American town where they exist rather than live. It’s a hellish existence too, with only the US oil company setting up there offering any kind of work and a potential way out. It comes in the form of a huge pay-out to any four men willing to risk their lives driving two trucks of highly volatile nitro-glycerine across a perilous jungle landscape where it’s needed 300 miles away.
It’s a suicide mission but when you’ve got nothing to lose and the reward will change your life…
Sorcerer is at times a powerful experience and looks great in this Blu-ray edition. Friedkin, on a roll after The French Connection and The Exorcist, piles on the grimness and the last third of the film revs up the tension as the hapless men negotiate storms, bad roads and fallen trees. There’s one scene involving the trucks crossing a derelict bridge over a river in a howling gale which is astonishing to watch (although imagine it taking place in sweltering heat, silence and deathly stillness and you see how tense the film could have been).
Whilst the performances are great, particularly from Roy Scheider, there’s a nagging sense of something missing and that’s the lack of shits we give for these desperate men. They don't have to be likeable, you just have to care. The Wages of Fear spent its first hour setting up the four relationships beautifully so that, by the time the journey starts, you’re already totally gripped, but here, they barely know each other. In particular, what was a highlight of The Wages of Fear in the relationship dynamic between Yves Montand and Charles Vanal is tossed away entirely as Friedkin uses editing and dramatic situations to create tension instead of characters we care about to create fear.
Back to that interview, which is between Friedkin and Nicolas Winding Refn. In it, Friedkin reveals that he considers Sorcerer to be his best film. It’s far, far from his worst but it’s just not in the same league as his two previous works. Refn is obsessed throughout the 90-minute interview with the film’s catastrophic critical and financial failure and becomes an annoying presence, constantly interrupting Friedkin’s fascinating stories and insights to make his own self-congratulatory points.
Like the film itself, it’s just not as good you want it to be.
SORCERER (1977) / CERT: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN / SCREENPLAY: WALON GREEN / STARRING: ROY SCHEIDER, BRUNO CREMER, FRANCISCO RABAL, AMIDOU / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 6TH