In 1977, William Friedkin was riding high from the critical and commercial success of The French Connection and The Exorcist, two of the biggest hits of The Hollywood New Wave. He was about to release Sorcerer, his remake/remodel of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 thriller, The Wages of Fear, shot on four continents for $22 million. Then Star Wars happened, and George Lucas’ sur-prise blockbuster almost obliterated the taste for brooding films with conflicted anti-heroes. Sorcerer was a flop as was Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron and John Boorman’s eccentric sequel to Fiendkin’s original, Exorcist II: The Heretic.
The Star Wars franchise continues to make money, but Sorcerer has grown in stature and a strong argument can be made that it is not only the equal of Clouzot’s original, but in some ways, more thoughtful and darker. Fans of the film have long campaigned for its reissue and now that day is here.
Like Clouzot’s film, Sorcerer follows four pariahs in a remote South American village, who have been paid to transport a truck full of explosives to an oilfield where a wildfire has broken out at one of the wells. Unlike the original, Friedkin opens the film with a series of “prologues” to explain how the characters became exiled and seek redemption of a kind by taking on this desperate mission.
Nilo (Francisco Rabal), is a hitman on the run from a job in Mexico. Kassem (Amidou) is the sole survivor of a terrorist cell’s abortive attack in Jerusalem. Victor (Bruno Cremer) is a disgraced Parisian banker implicated in a large-scale fraud. Roy Scheider, who Friedkin made a star in The French Connection, plays a getaway driver on the run from the New Jersey mob.
The making of Sorcerer was a battle of wills between Friedkin and his cast and crew complicated by the logistics of working in a remote location in the Dominican Republic. Two cinematographers, Dick Bush and John Stephens, worked on the film, but the look is seamless – simultaneously gritty and, especially in night scenes, almost psychedelic. Tangerine Dream contributed a spooky score that deepens the sensation of reality blurring into nightmare.
Sorcerer has endured because it matches, if not exceeds the hyper-realism and intensity of its source. As a stand-alone excursion into a literal heart of darkness, Sorcerer could easily play on a triple bill with Apocalypse Now and Aguirre: Wrath of God. It is the reissue of 2017.
Director: William Friedkin
Writers: Walon Green (screenplay), Georges Arnaud (novel)
Stars: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal
Reissue of the 1977 film on limited release from November 3rd.