Deliverance can be considered a stark, uncompromising showdown between basic survival instincts against the character pretensions of a mannered and material society. Unfortunately for John Boorman’s heavy film of James Dickey’s first novel, it can just as easily be argued as a virile, mountain country transposition of nihilistic, specious philosophising which exploits rather than explores its moments of violent drama.
Against the majestic setting of a river being dammed, Dickey’s story takes four city men out for a last weekend trip down the river. Unexpected malevolence forces each to test his personal values in order to survive.
It is, however, in the fleshing out that the script fumbles, and with it the direction and acting. The unofficial group leader of the sailing trip is Burt Reynolds, a volatile, calculating, aggressive and offensive tempter of fate.
Why the best friend Jon Voight would maintain an apparent longstanding relationship with Reynolds’ character is an early plot chuck-hole.
What makes for a pervading uneasiness is the implication of the story: the strongest shall survive. The values of Reynolds’ character are repulsive; Ronny Cox is a cardboard-cutout as an intellectual type; Ned Beatty is the easy-going, middle-class figurehead patronized by both the ‘doers’ and the ‘thinkers’ of the world; leaving Voight apparently as the one to lead them out of travail.
In the depiction of sudden, violent death, there is the rhapsodic wallowing in the deadly beauty of it all: protruding arrows, agonizing expiration, etc. It’s the stuff of which slapdash oaters and crime programmers are made but the obvious ambitions of Deliverance are supposed to be on a higher plane.
1972: Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Editing