Going in to Sorcerer, it’s key to note that this Freidkin directed piece was poorly received upon its release. Interesting, as many of the films of the 70s and 80s that were poorly received are now considered classics that redefined their respective genres. But while Sorcerer doesn’t exactly revive the action thriller genre in any major way, it’s still an extremely enjoyable film that manages to bulk out a few of the expected tropes of its respective genres.
Coming only a few years after his work on The Exorcist, Freidkin’s 1977 film Sorcerer stars Roy Scheider as Jackie Scanlon, a mob driver who finds himself on the run to South America. There, along with three other men, Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer), Nino (Fransisco Nabal) and Kassem (Amidou) all find their way to living undercover lives in the same town. When a chance to receive a healthy supply of money rears its head, it’s up to these four men to transport dangerously explosive dynamite sticks two thousand miles away.
The tension provided as the two trucks teeter and barrel through the dangerous climates is incredible. Friedkin manages to build a superb deal of tension just from the knowledge of the cargo within the trucks, the cinematography and direction do the rest of the work. Showing us harsh surroundings and danger at every corner, the four men battle rough terrain, blocked roads and bandits as they look to make their way through the jungles.
As far as the leading characters go, the key to them is that they aren’t good people. There’s a clear difference between likeable and good, though, and writers Walon Green and Georges Arnaud manage to get this balance perfect. We care for what happens to these four truck drivers, but at the same time we know they’re villainous at heart. One is a terrorist, the other a mob member, a third is swindling people out of millions on the stock exchange. They’re unlikely individuals thrown into an even more perplexing situation, and their will to survive and make a new life for themselves manages to combat the problems of how underwhelming their buildup is.
Scheider and Cremer are certainly the highlights of the piece, and it’s a shame they’re split up from each other for large portions of the film. Instead we see Scheider deal with the task at hand, and Cremer reminisce about how life used to be. They’re very well balanced, but again, it’s a shame that they don’t sit in the same truck as each other. Instead Cremer’s Victor Manzon is paired with Kassem, and Scheider’s Jackie Scanlon is thrown in with Nino. Nino and Kassem aren’t the most interesting of characters, but at least they are performed in a strong enough manner.
How the ruminating tensions and character studies of Sorcerer were ever poorly received is beyond me. Another classic Friedkin piece that seems to be less remembered than his incredible work on The French Connection. Not all of his characters work, nor do they ever really have enough chemistry to be pulled together as a great group, but that does appear to be the charm. Friedkin manages to capture how a group of four strangers will work together in the most stressful of times, and it’s a great blend of direction and performance. A solid thriller that manages to pick up its pace tremendously in its second act, Sorcerer is a display of directing talent and competent writing.