William Friedkin’s Sorcerer is a painstaking, admirable, but mostly distant and uninvolving suspenser based on the French classic The Wages of Fear [from the novel by Georges Arnaud]. Friedkin vividly renders the experience of several men driving trucks loaded with nitro through the South American jungle, yet the characters are basically functional. ‘Sorcerer’ is merely the name of one of the trucks.
The first 70 minutes are devoted to establishing the violent backgrounds of the characters before the trucks roll, unlike the 1953 Henri-Georges Clouzot film which took place entirely in the jungle. Production took 10 months, largely in the jungles of the Dominican Republic and central Mexico, but also in Paris, Jerusalem, New Jersey, and New Mexico. Reports are the fil could have gone as high as $21 million.
The drivers are Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Amidou and Francisco Rabal. The oil company boss hires the truckers because he needs the nitro to fight a well fire.
The story has a strong existential feeling, desperate men staking their lives on a suicidal mission because they have no other way of making a living. But despite the opening scenes – of Scheider involved in a New Jersey robbery, Cremer in a French bank scandal, and Amidou in an Arab terrorist incident – the film fails to bring them alive as people.
In the journey, the last 51 minutes of the film, one becomes enervated watching the agonizing progress of the trucks and the men’s gradually increasing hysteria. Lensing is extraordinarily good, particularly the long sequences shot during torrential rainstorms.
[In the UK, the film was retitled and cut to 92 mins., partly by eliminating the flashbacks.]
1977: Nomination: Best Sound