★★★★ / ★★★★
An explosion in an American oil well in Nicaragua renders businessmen desperate to stop the fire from burning off the precious and highly profitable natural resource. After the incident, crates of nitroglycerin are found in a shack. One is sufficient to stop the fire. However, it is two hundred miles between the problem and the solution. Aerial transport is simply not an option given the chemical’s unstable nature. So, four men from different countries are hired to drive two trucks containing the liquid nitro, each to be paid handsomely and provided citizenship if their mission is successful. The latter is especially attractive given that the men are fugitives in their respective homelands.
Once the central adventure, the transport of the chemical compound from one place to another, of “Sorcerer,” based on the screenplay by Walon Green, reaches an overdrive, it is a thriller so confident and so brilliantly executed, it dares us to look away from the screen due to the threat of the crates being nudged with just enough force to blow its vicinity to smithereens. While it can be criticized for taking too much time to establish the criminals’ backstories, I enjoyed it because it is challenging to pinpoint what the film is ultimately going to be about.
The cold-blooded assassination executed by the well-dressed and stoic Nilo (Francisco Rabal) in Veracruz, Mexico hints at a possible international espionage. A bombing in Jerusalem which involves “Martinez” (Amidou) suggests a trace of political thriller. Back in Paris, France, “Serrano” (Bruno Cremer) becomes increasingly desperate as he learns that his business has gone bad. A similar situation can be applied to “Dominguez” (Roy Scheider) after he has killed a priest during a robbery which happens to be a mobster’s brother. These last two has a similar template as a gangster flick. While the picture is really more about treacherous land of Nicaragua rather than the foreign men who take refuge in it, I appreciated that we are given an understanding of the men’s origins. When their lives are threatened, a part of us can identify with them because we know them somewhat outside of their tough guy reputations.
There is synergy in the utilization of sound effects and score. This is observed best in two ways: when our protagonists face seemingly insurmountable dangers in the jungles of Nicaragua and when the camera turns its attention on the faces of the locals.
The most exciting sequence involves the trucks having to cross a suspension bridge which consists of only wood and rope. When the trucks sway back and forth as it sits in the middle of the bridge during a storm, it appears as though it can be thrown off any second. The howling of the wind, the raging of the rain, the creaking of wood not designed to endure so much weight, and the exhausted engine of the transport together create a sort of poetic dirge, a misstep from either man or nature means certain death.
Meanwhile, its most moving sequence involves the delivery of incinerated corpses to a small town after the accident in the oil well. Initially, there is a lot of commotion: extremely angry and frustrated roars of the poor, a thirst for blood. But when the bodies are finally shown, wrapped in plastic, there is absolute silence, a sign of both sadness and respect for the empty shells that have been handed to them. Just as quickly, the atmosphere is taken over by outrage.
Directed by William Friedkin, “Sorcerer” is about the experience rather than the genre. So few films lead with this distinction. Notice that if the sound is taken away, the images still demand attention.