A rare American remake of a European feature that’s almost as breathtaking as the original if not more, Sorcerer is a ruthless, restless & relentless thriller that presents director William Friedkin in sublime form and firing on all cylinders as he reimagines Henry-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear with such unceasing intensity that his version at times even manages to steer past the revered French classic in many aspects.
The story of Sorcerer follows four men from different parts of the globe who are on the run from their pasts and hiding in the same South American village. Desperate to get out of their current predicament and start afresh, their paths cross when they decide to risk their lives and sign up for the dangerous job of transporting unstable nitroglycerine in two trucks over a rocky mountain terrain where even a slight bump could trigger an explosion.
Directed by William Friedkin (best known for The Exorcist), the film begins with four brief snippets, each introducing one of the four characters and taking us through the events that made them flee their countries. Friedkin invests heavily in the characters during the first half which in turn makes their perilous journey in the next half all the more harrowing as every moment is an edge-of-the-seat stuff once the deadly cargo is loaded on the trucks.
Pushing everything to the extreme, Friedkin employs the camera and utilises all the available resources in ways that magnifies the tension considerably and leaves the audience gasping for breath. The characters are not likeable but they are definitely human, plus it’s the narrative of desperate men in desperate times doing desperate things that makes us care about these despicable individuals.
Few viewers may complain about the first half being slow & meandering but I found it necessary since things wouldn’t be as gripping & nail-biting unless the audience is truly invested in them. The first half essentially builds the characters while the remaining half elevates the suspense to next levels. Add to that, the unpredictable locations, terrifying set pieces, unexpected scenarios & Tangerine Dream’s score, all play a vital role in keeping things intense till the end.
Coming to the performances, Sorcerer features a reliable cast in Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal & Amidou in their respective roles of a gangster, a crooked banker, a hitman & an Arab terrorist who undertake the risky assignment of delivering the deadly cargo, and all four of them play their part responsibly, leaving nothing to complain about. The difference in their backgrounds, their interactions & frictions with each other and them working together, all of it only adds to the whole experience in the end.
But there are a few things Friedkin could’ve done differently. The title, for example, is actually misleading and coming from the director of The Exorcist, it actually feels like another horror fable. The final steps of the journey where one of our characters begins to question his sanity, that felt a bit out of place and somewhat unnecessary. The first half does most things right but the events would have definitely benefitted from a better pace. But all of it is more or less a nitpick, for the level of tension this film generates from time to time is unlike anything.
On an overall scale, Sorcerer is amongst the most tense, taut & thrilling examples of its genre that finds William Friedkin at the top of his game and delivers a disquieting experience that’s as unforgettable as it is unsettling. A work for first-rate filmmaking that scores high marks in all aspects, the film is a nerve-wracking exercise in tension & suspense that undeniably deserves a spot amongst the greatest remakes ever made. One of the best films of its year, one of the finest works of its decade, and a timeless masterpiece that’s still as gripping as it was at its time of release, Sorcerer comes strongly recommended.