Once upon a time in a galaxy not so far away a film opened that would the course of cinema history. This is not that film though. This is Sorcerer, the much-debated and derided reimagining of Le Salaire de la peur by Exorcist director William Freidkin. Guilty of opening at the same time as a little known sci-fi fantasy called Star Wars, Sorcerer all but killed off Friedkin’s career and a whole tranche of visceral risk-taking with it.
... Sorcerer is both a triumph and a warning.
Deliberately opening with a series of fractured introductions, this is a film that doesn’t invite easy interpretation. Washing the screen with brutal imagery from its very outset, the ragged editing here borders on the documentarian as it searches out its four key protagonists. Nilo the assassin, Kassem the marked Palestinian, Victor the French fraudster and Jackie the American gangster all need to disappear fast and Porvenir, Columbia is their destination. Equally squalid and wretched, life in Porvenir is seriously cheap, yet for four men the prospect of driving explosives across country might just be their road to salvation.
This is because from a land and time long before digital effects, movies had to be real and Sorcerer revels in this by punishing its players. The storms are real, the people are real and the desperation etched into every frame literally saps you of all energy. Like an American version of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcaraldo, Sorcerer is both an artistic and a literal folie. As Roy Schieder’s Jackie comes apart at the seams, Bruno Crener’s Victor bides his time and Francisco Rabal needles Amidou as Kassem, you hardly need any sweltering glycerin to push them over the edge.
Yet, whilst the film’s 200-mile journey and subsequent conclusion don’t make the greatest of sense, Sorcerer‘s power to live on in your memory lies completely in its unique imagery. Gleefully jumping into that same canon of movies that will force you to take a shower afterwards, such is its dirt and rancour, you can see all the reasons in this beautifully restored Bluray release. With vivid colours and contrasts that you only get with movies shot on actual celluloid, every green and brown pixel here drips with a sticky jungle-like humidity, you can’t easily get off.
In the end, rising triumphantly from the swamp of mediocrity that sought to drown it, Sorcerer is both a triumph and a warning. Genuinely boasting some of the tensest scenes ever committed to film, Friedkin not only drains every frame of tension but very nearly kills himself in the process.
And it doesn’t come more highwire than that.