Seen by many to be William Friedkin’s overlooked masterpiece, Sorcerer was a box office flop and was met with rather mixed reviews upon its original release. After the budget ballooned to around £22 million, the film struggled to recoup half that at the box office. The critical response wasn’t much better with Leslie Halliwell going as far as saying that it was ‘truly insulting’. Perhaps it was because Sorcerer could not compete with Star Wars that opened the same summer or that it did not meet the expectations set out by Friedkin’s previous releases The French Connection and The Exorcist. Either way the subsequent 40 years have given plenty of time for the original reaction to be revised and today many believe it to be the director’s best work.
The film opens with four vignettes set in Mexico, Israel, France, and the USA, each concerning men who have to leave their homes and lives as they know them on short notice. Kassem (Amidou), Victor (Bruno Cremer), Jackie (Roy Scheider), and Nilo (Francisco Rabal) all individually end up in Porvenir, a remote town in the oil and gas fields of the Chilean jungle where they hide from their crimes and actions. When an oil well explodes the owners are despite to extinguish it but find that their only option is to use volatile dynamite located 200 miles away. Eager for the monetary reward the four men volunteer to risk their lives and to carry the dynamite through the treacherous terrain.
At its centre Sorcerer is a twisted redemption tale where salvation appears to be all but impossible. There is a strain of fatalism that runs through the film. No matter your circumstances, events out of your control can ruin and corrupt life as you know it. There is a brilliant sense of dread and desperation that is present in almost every scene.
Accompanying and complementing the plot are some of the best set pieces ever put to film. The now iconic scene where the large trucks struggle to cross a rickety bridge is astonishing and will have you wondering how it was even shot.
For the most part Sorcerer has aged pretty well but there is the odd area where its age shows. It is a very masculine story and I wouldn’t be surprised if the female characters have less than 10 lines between them. The world has moved on since 1977 and there is the occasional moment when it shows.
It is also difficult to recommend Sorcerer ahead of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s brilliant The Wages of Fear which is also adapted from the Georges Arnaud novel of the same name. Clouzot’s film is an almost perfect work of suspense and tension that could rival anything from Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography. This is not to say that you shouldn’t watch Sorcerer but that if you are given the choice The Wages of Fear cannot be beaten.
Filled with unforgettable moments, Sorcerer may for some represent the end of New Hollywood but should instead be seen as a film that captures the style and spirit of the period. In the years since its original release it is easy to see why it has become so ironic and influential.
Sorcerer is re-released in cinemas from Friday 3rd November.