Nerve-wracking, mesmerizing, and just so fucking suspenseful, Sorcerer is one of those movies that will blow you away. You might ask yourself why should you watch a movie that’s almost fifty years old. You might think it’s another bad fantasy movie with laughable special effects. What Sorcerer is something glorious. Something that will prove to you that these “old movies” can be just as good as the new ones. We open with murder in Veracruz, Mexico before moving on to Jerusalem. This is about the time you’re going to start noticing just how immersive Sorcerer is. And then the practical effects are going to hit you like a freight train. Good old practical effects that look realistic as fuck. And then we will be on the move again.
Authentic and visceral, Sorcerer is one of my favorite movies. Its intense atmosphere and world crafted with such precision will transport you to a different time. It’s based on Georges Arnaud’s 1950 French novel Le Salaire de la peur. This is its second adaptation, the first one being Wages of Fear, released in 1953 and starring Yves Montand. Now, I also checked out that version and simply could not get through it. It has a more lighthearted atmosphere and I couldn’t feel the tension I felt here. That’s a different movie from a different time. As such, it offers a more authentic and grittier look at some of what Arnaud was writing about. To witness the poverty and living conditions was truly an eye-opening experience.
What Sorcerer is also, is a phenomenal character study. It’s an old-school cigarette smoke filled, smelling of cheap whiskey and sweat character study. Four men from different parts of the world find themselves in limbo in a small South American village. Without money or any means to get out of there, they spend their days working at the local oil drilling facility. Facility owned by a giant corporation exploiting the native workers. Workers who are also exploited by their brethren and government officials. You will not only see and hear this place but will also be able to fucking smell it! Talk about the freaking immersion factor. Not to reveal too much, let’s just say our four men will have to do some extremely dangerous driving. Their larger-than-life personas are simply drawn to this larger-than-life story.
Part of the appeal of this movie is the passive masculinity oozing from every scene. All the driving sequences, the repairs, the perseverance through incredible difficulties, are all hitting these ancient receptors at full force. In our complex world, it’s hard to define what it means to be masculine or feel like a real man, without going into toxicity. Here, however, devoid of meaning and everything that made them who they are, they were craving a simple a straightforward mission. No matter how difficult or dangerous it is. The story is crafted so well that there’s not even a hint of any toxic masculinity or anything similar. The seventies seem to be the questioning period as we saw the same impact with another movie dealing with these issues, Midnight Express.
Now, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one sequence of a bus or a truck driving on these perilous roads taken briefly from the jungle. The last one I saw was in Turistas. Shot in the Dominican Republic, Sorcerer is a pretty big production with a $21 million budget. However, you don’t need a big budget to enjoy the lush jungles or other stunning landscapes in this exotic country. Once we’re there, we will witness several edge-of-your-seat scenes. Scenes crowned by the greatest of them all, the infamous bridge scene. It took three fucking months to film it! And it was as dangerous as it looks with trucks falling into the river several times during filming. All of this is accompanied by a perfectly fitting Tangerine Dream soundtrack making Sorcerer an all-around masterpiece.
Finally, we should talk about the cast. Now, as in all great movies, coincidences played a huge part here. First of all, I can only dream about the original cast of Sorcerer along with director Friedkin. Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni, and Lino Ventura are three great actors and that’s all I’m going to say about that. After declining McQueen’s requests, Friedkin lost the other two and had to go to his third or fourth choices. And this is one of those coincidences I was talking about. Since the movie is about outcasts, losers who find themselves in this godforsaken place, the actors who were eventually cast were much more appropriate. They are more authentic and leave room for all the other elements of the movie to be more pronounced.
After seeing this movie, you might wonder what are there other movies like Sorcerer? I recommend you start with Deliverance and Aguirre: The Wrath of God before moving on to obligatory Apocalypse Now.
Director: William Friedkin
Writers: Walon Green, Georges Arnaud
Cast: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou, Ramon Bieri, Peter Capell, Karl John
Fun Facts: The oil fire was created by pumping up thousands of gallons of diesel fuel as well as raw propane into the air ignited. Once the fire started it was so hot that no one could get within 50 feet of it.