★★★★ / ★★★★
Lewis (Burt Reynolds) is an experienced outdoorsman and thinks that he and his friends could use some relaxation. Along with Ed (Jon Voight), Drew (Ronny Cox), and Bobby (Ned Beatty), they decide to drive up to a wilderness in northern Georgia to go canoeing down a river before it gets turned into a dam. Although the trip starts off promisingly, their romantic view of their vacation turns grim when an encounter with two locals lead to a sexual assault and murder.
It is a shame that “Deliverance,” based on the novel and screenplay by James Dickey, is mostly remembered for one scene involving a rape and a film often referenced when horror-thrillers feature inbred hillbillies as villains. In actuality, it is less about rape and lack of genetic variation within a community. It is a tale of survival when surrounded by the unknown and the lengths many of us might be willing to go through to have another chance at leading a life after experiencing an event so important, to keep it a secret is tantamount to lugging around feelings of guilt for as long as one lives.
The film has a noteworthy opening sequence involving Drew with an acoustic guitar and a boy with a banjo (Billy Redden). It sets up an level of energy that the film maintains during scenes when not much is happening and commands when something is worthy of attention. The set-up is simple: Drew plays several chords and the boy repeats. Eventually, though, they break out from the formulas they establish and create music that both the strangers and locals can appreciate. A brisk but controlled editing is employed, coupling shots of the instruments with faces. Although the camera jumps back and forth, our senses our immersed in five areas: the music, how the instrument is handled and played, and the reactions of the artists and the listeners.
The look of the picture becomes all the more impressive as the canoes make their way down the river. There are plenty of wide shots so we can appreciate the space, how small the characters are compared to the nature that they think is there to be enjoyed. It is smart that close-ups during such scenes are kept to a minimum. It serves as a reminder that we are the observers of the experience so it is likely that we are more keen on the dangers of the environment. We see farther than the characters because they tend to pay more attention on the rate of paddling and which direction to orient the canoe. It is most gripping when the narrow boats must make their way through jagged rocks and fierce rapids. We know that something will go very wrong eventually so the anticipation works its magic.
Equally engaging is the moral quandary that the men go through when a corpse waits for its fate. One of them suggests that they bury the body where it is not easy to find. Another suggests that it must be reported to the police because they are responsible. I liked that it does not make an obvious point that there is a difference between responsibility and guilt. If we were in their shoes, even I am not sure whether I would be able to discern between the two terms and what they imply. But since we are the audience, it is absolutely something worth thinking about.
Directed by John Boorman, “Deliverance” presents varying levels of violence but they are not self-indulgent. I believe the intention is to get us to think about decisions and consequences. At one point, the screenplay almost forces us to ponder for what it feels like an extended period that its pacing turns quite stagnant a little bit past its halfway point. Those who have really taken a look at the film and thought about it will–and should, I think–remember the quieter moments. Reckless comparisons of this film with the horror and savagery of inbred people is an indication of being ill-informed.
Boogie Nights (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★
17-year-old Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) was spotted by a pornographic film director named Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) while working as a busboy in a disco. Eddie, after running away from home, decided to work for Jack, changed his name to Dirk Diggler and instantly became an adult film star in the late 1970s. At first, everything seemed to be going well: Dirk’s well-endowed tool skyrocketed him to stardom, he made some good-natured friends (Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the ideas he shared with Jack in order to make the exotic pictures they made together even better earned Dirk awards, money and recognition. But in the 1980s, everything came crashing down as he chose his pride over people that took care of him when he was at his lowest, became addicted to drugs and resulted to prostitution to finance his addiction. I was impressed with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s elegant control over his material. It could easily have been sleazy because of its subject matter but I was happy he treated his subjects with utmost respect. Anderson may have highlighted his characters’ many negative traits but he made them as human and relatable as possible. His decision to underline the negative aspects of the pornographic industry not only was the driving force of the drama but it also prevented the picture from glamorizing its many lifestyles. It made the argument that the porno stars were sad, desperate and that most of them wouldn’t choose the industry if they knew how to do anything else well or if they had the means to reach for their goals. For instance, Don Cheadle’s character did not have the financial means to start his own business so he used the industry to have some sort of leverage. Details like that made me care deeply for the characters. Their careers didn’t have to be honorable but, like us, they did what they have to do in order to get by. However, I wished the movie could have at least acknowledged the role of sexually transmitted diseases in the industry. I know that the idea was not yet popular at the time but some hint of it could have added another dimension to the script. Furthermore, I found William H. Macy’s character to be one of the most fascinating of the bunch but he wasn’t fully explored. With a wife that so openly cheated on him (she had a penchant for having sex in public), we saw that he was a pushover. But what else was he? I felt like he was merely a joke, a punchline and that stood out to me because, even though others had something peculiar about them, they had layers and complexity. “Boogie Nights” surprised me in many ways because I didn’t expect it to have so much heart and intelligence. It certainly changed the way I saw pornographic material and, more importantly, the people that starred in them.