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Blu-ray Review: 'Sorcerer'

The four drivers contemplate their next move in William Friedkin's "Sorcerer"
The four drivers contemplate their next move in William Friedkin's "Sorcerer"
Yahoo Images

The Film:

When most people hear the name of director William Friedkin, they think mainly of his pair of masterpieces from the 70s, “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.” It was these two films that made Friedkin a household name, earning him a pair of Oscar nominations for Best Director, and the Oscar itself for the former. The massive success of these films would be a very hard act to follow, but he was determined to try his best, choosing as his next project an adaptation of George Arnaud’s novel “The Wages of Fear” (a novel that had already been adapted into a classic film by Henri-Georges Clouzot).

Friedkin’s film, which was retitled to “Sorcerer,” follows four men in South America, brought together by various circumstances, as they try to transport a large supply of nitroglycerin across rugged terrain in order to put out an oil fire. Jackie (Roy Scheider) fled there after being targeted for a robbery he took part in, Nilo (Francisco Rabal) is a hitman that we know very little of, Victor (Bruno Cremer) was involved in bank fraud back in Paris, and Kassem (Amidou) helped perpetrate a bombing in Jerusalem. All of them are simply looking to collect the large reward that waits for them at the end of their dangerous task so that they can escape their dreadful lives in the small village of Porvenir.

As a big fan of Friedkin’s masterpieces, it’s intriguing to finally be able to see one of his older films that slipped through the cracks after its initial release, especially as it’s the one that he followed up “The Exorcist” with. The history behind “Sorcerer” is rather strange. There are multiple stories of setbacks during filming, followed by a critical thrashing upon its release. However, there has apparently been a renewed interest in the film, with many critics reevaluating their original opinion. There are now many that find it to be an “ok” film, but sadly, after finally having seen it, it’s quite clear that the initial reaction was right on target.

“Sorcerer,” the unfortunately-chosen title taken from one of the trucks used to transport the nitroglycerin, is a dreadful film that never comes to life and never becomes engaging. After a fragmented opening that tries to fill us in on who all of the main characters are, we are still left with little reason to care about them. We have a thief, a murderer, a terrorist, and a crook. Who exactly are we supposed to be sympathizing with here are we watch them try to deliver highly volatile material over 200 miles? However, before we even get to that point, the film takes about an hour to finally get the main plot underway, with the exposition dragging on and on and the audience quickly losing patience.

There are parts of it that are done in an impressive manner, including the infamous scene that has the characters driving their large trucks over incredibly rickety bridges that span across raging waters. Apart from this, the second half of the film mainly consists of these four men driving on dirt roads and through jungles, which is just as exciting as it sounds. It’s no surprise that the reviews back in 1977 (including The New York Times and The L.A. Times) were highly negative. Charles Champlin of The L.A. Times had asked “What went wrong?” Well, the screenplay by Walon Green starts to answer the question, but it also begs another: Why did Friedkin think that this would make for a good motion picture? He had shown that he was a good judge of material before, but this time represents a sharp decline in that judgment. Is it any wonder the film slipped into obscurity almost immediately after release? With the number of issues that pile up by the end of these two hours, an incredibly misleading title ends up being the least of its worries.

Video/Audio:

“Sorcerer” makes its premiere on Blu-ray in a stunning 1.85:1, 1080p transfer. The studio has done a fantastic job with this restoration, especially given that the film was basically lost for over 30 years (according to Friedkin, it was only available in truncated and butchered forms). The picture may show a little grain every now and again, but it hardly stands in the way of the amazing work that went into cleaning it up. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds great and is mixed perfectly, giving you an optimal experience in both areas.

Special Features:

Liner Notes/Letter – While there are no special features on the disc itself, you do get some fascinating liner notes that feature excerpts from Friedkin’s memoir, “The Friedkin Connection,” detailing how the film came about, how it was made, and the critical reaction. Also included is a letter from Friedkin that features a little history of the film and a few acknowledgments. Aside from the unfortunate fact that he mentions how he believes this to be the best film he has made, it’s a neat little addition.

Conclusion:

“Sorcerer” is a film that is best left as a cinematic obscurity. Those that seek it out now due to its sudden revival will merely be disappointed with the lack of quality, especially if they’re expecting something along the lines of Friedkin’s great works from around the same period. This may be a magnificent-looking restoration, but that doesn’t stop the film itself from merely being a dud in a great director’s filmography.

Score: 2/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Copperhead, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Best of Bogart Collection, Beneath, American Hustle, Kill Your Darlings, The Slumber Party Massacre, Inside Llewyn Davis, In Fear, Oldboy (2013), Cold Comes the Night, Gravity

Now playing in theaters: Draft Day, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Nymphomaniac: Volume Two, Nymphomaniac: Volume One, Bad Words

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.