William Friedkin took all of his built up moviemaker credit from doing The French Connection and The Exorcist back to back and made Sorcerer, a movie that was immediately wiped off the face of the Earth because it came out in 1977, right before a little movie called Star Wars.
(Welcome back to Jalopnik Movie Club, where we take a look at cars in movies and movies about cars, and you write in with all of your hot takes. This week, we're reviewing Sorcerer, a movie about how it's OK if you put criminal's lives on the line and that sometimes a remake can still be a great movie.)
Yes, Sorcerer is essentially a remake of Wages Of Fear. But Wages Of Fear wasn't directed by William Friedkin, didn't have Roy Scheider starring and didn't have a soundtrack composed by pioneering electronic outfit Tangerine Dream.
Some of you will likely be upset with me for seeing Sorcerer before seeing Wages Of Fear, but I don't care. I hear they're both very good. I know Sorcerer is very good. Sorcerer is very much a product of distilled nihilism, cynicism and negativity, which is probably why I managed to have such a strong connection to it.
Anyway, the movie's about four desperate outlaws on the run for various reasons who are hired to transport barrels of dangerously unstable nitroglycerine to an oil well 322km away in the South American jungle. It's a car movie in that said barrels are carried in these two flatbed trucks, driven very carefully and across perilous terrain, thanks to nitroglycerine being explosive and all.
All of the characters are arsehole criminals with no hope of redemption, and yet they're all portrayed to be charismatic and somehow still sort of likable, though I think that's more credit to the actors as the story thread goes out of its way to make sure they do nothing to make you like them.
The movie flows along with an appropriate sense of dread. There's an undercurrent of an otherworldly, spiritual vibe that invokes a lot of what Friedkin accomplished with The Exorcist. It's a fully fleshed out vision of bad things happening to bad people, with each character's individual problems unravelling into a giant ball of misfortune and unyielding punishment waged on them by the jungle, and their struggle to keep the nitroglycerine from atomizing them and everything around them.
Sorcerer is essentially a film-length exercise of the film concept made famous by Alfred Hitchcock, where you show the ticking bomb under the couple's table and let the audience sweat it out while the characters on screen unassumingly inch closer to their unavoidable fates.
The remastered version I managed to catch projected at the Metrograph theatre in New York was technically beautiful, with bright vibrant colours piercing through the doom and gloom message of the movie.
I also particularly enjoyed the design of the two trucks, which almost became beastly characters in their own right. They are like demons sent to shepherd our characters to their various gruesome demises, and they looked the part.
If you like your movies to have a complete and physical impact on you, Sorcerer is one to sit through. I caught my neck tensing up and had to catch my breath quite a few times, and I strangely enjoyed it. It's too bad it was all pushed aside by Star Wars, which is pure counter-programming to Sorcerer's message of tension, hopelessness, stress and despair. And as some have said, the success of Star Wars and the failure of Sorcerer is a good indication of the fall of big auteur movies from the 1970s toward the mega-franchise Hollywood environment we have today, where every new movie is an Avengers sequel.
That's all from me, now let's hear from those of you that emailed with your thoughts, opinions and hot takes about Sorcerer:
I do a bi weekly movie club with friends and we did this earlier this year.
Watch the first 10-15 minutes for some cool car spotting/action sequences
Fast forward for about 40 minutes....pointless exposition. Wait to they get the trucks
Next 45 minutes or so of the trucks is fantastic. Bridge and other scenes are amazing
The ending is pretty random and a bit of a let down. The action sequences are unbelievable though, both objectively and for 1977.
Unspiek, Baron Bodissey - A very stable genius:
Oh I watched it and I almost shat from so much suspense. Only until today I am learning it was weirdly titled in spanish as the original Wages of Fear.
Edit: I just remembered I watched it in a small movie house which was in the back of a downtown motel and which only ran limited screenings of classic movies for a few days. I also watched The Cassandra Crossing there and some others I can't recall now. Attendance never exceeded fifty people if that many.
Sorcerer is an insanely awesome movie. It got consigned to the dustbin of history because William Friedkin made the mistake of naming it Sorcerer when it contains no sorcery, using no English for the first 20 minutes of the movie (people walked out because they thought it was a foreign film) and releasing it the same week as Star Wars. What people missed out on was Friedkin's magnum opus (that's what he says himself, even though he directed The Exorcist and the French Connection). Because Sorcerer IS his magnum opus. The first act establishes the main characters so well it should be required viewing for film students. The journey itself is so real it endangered everyone who worked on the movie (yeah, they really drove the trucks across a rope bridge). I showed Sorcerer to my 17-year-old daughter and now any time someone talks about Star Wars, her response is "Star Wars is nice, but HAVE YOU SEEN SORCERER?!"
The trucks got their fair share of character development as well - this is where Friedkin really shined. Sorcerer is a remake of a film called "Wages of Fear" and in Wages of Fear they used newer trucks. Friedkin was inspired by the way old trucks were modified, personalised and named in South America, so he chose these trucks specifically to personify them. Both are the same make and model of deuce-and-a-quarter GM trucks, but each has its own personality - each represents death looming around the corner with Sorcerer's evil face and Lazaro's front-release exhaust blowing smoke below the bumper.
In short. I love this movie and will share it with anyone who I can get to watch it. We talked it up on the Reels and Wheels Podcast.
(PS — was it my suggestion to Kristen that got you to pick this one? Because it was a good suggestion. Where are you getting to watch it on 35mm? I want a screening!)
Will I have an existential crisis when I fill up my Civic?
Whether or not Sorcerer was meant to shine the slightest negative light on big oil and force its viewer to question their next trip to the pump, Sorcerer certainly forced me to put some thought into where my stuff actually comes from. I can only imagine those moviegoers in 1977 felt the slightest bit of guilt when they filled up their Novas and Pintos. Equal parts anti-big oil and thriller, Sorcerer informs as well as entertains.
When this movie came out, gasoline as a fuel for cars was it. Sure, a couple of people had some electric cars and ethanol in fuel was something new, but by and large, the American public had no choice which really "brought it home" to moviegoers back then. Today, it's largely the same, but slowly changing and if we wanted, we have options.
But then again, a big plot point for Sorcerer was how, ultimately, fate is in the driver's seat (no idiom intended) and my existential crisis won't matter. A bit of googling around and it looks like we're using just as much oil as back in the 70s if not more. There is, however, a downward trend for the past decade.
The world keeps on turning. People still need to move and drive around. Whether or not those guys converged in that lonely location, that fire would have still got extinguished one way or another.
The movie itself was great in my book. The mix of shots and the music had me on the edge of my seat on several parts, especially that rainy bridge scene. As a thriller, yes, I was thrilled.
But it's the bird's eye-view of the entire situation, fate or no fate, that we're all connected on some level that's stuck with me after the movie. Today, however, as far as gas is concerned, I have hope that I can have my "joy of driving cake" and eat it too if the energy mix is right.
And that wraps it up for this week's Jalopnik Movie Club review! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their takes, which I encourage you all to do for next week!
Speaking of next week, we'll be reviewing the The Transporter, which probably everyone has seen, but is unfortunately only available to rent or buy unless you're like me and get to see it projected in 35mm this weekend, so be sure to get it watched and collect your thoughts, and write in with your opinions and hot takes to justin at jalopnik dot com.
In the meantime, sound off below about the good and bad of Sorcerer and all of its hopelessness, and see you all next week!