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A Splatter of Blood

Sorcerer directed by William Friedkin at the Sack-Cheri

By Fred Hiatt

THE MOVIE IS called Sorcerer, but there are no sorcerers in it (aside from the trucks that are the real stars of the movie), which is indicative of the scriptwriters' skill in making connections and telling a story. The movie makes little sense; with its atmosphere of grimy, relentless boredom, it provides even less pleasure. Billy Friedkin directed The French Connection, then he directed The Exorcist; with Sorcerer, he accelerates this downward trend.

A bomb explodes in Israel, a wealthy Frenchman shoots out his brains in Paris, a priest gets shot in New Jersey. The only connection is blood: Sorcerer is less a movie than a bloodthirsty sadist's splicing of Technicolor newsreels. Even when the story--such as it is--gets going, the movie sidetracks for occasional carnage when it can't salvage enough from the plot itself. ("Maybe it's time," we imagine the director saying, "for a heavy cement pipe to crush a few native workers.")

Eventually the four anti-heroes land in a remote Latin American village, where stereotypes of malnourished Indians wallow stupidly in stereotypes of squalid, muddy hovels. (The village has grown up around an American oil company's rig, it seems, and for a moment we wonder whether the film's politics will make more sense than its story. But the superficially political events--an enraged populace stones a few soldiers, for instance--are unexplained rituals, bad theater without meaning or any attempt at meaning.) An oil well catches fire and to extinguish the flames the oil company needs vast quantities of explosives. The nearest explosives are separated from the well by 218 miles of tortuous jungle road; expert truck drivers, who will probably lose their lives, must bring them to the rig.

Any plot summary goes against the grain of this poorly-plotted movie; your guess is as good as mine--I doubt whether even the movie makers agreed (or cared) about what was going on. No one explains how an ex-banker turns into a talented teamster, or why the oil company does not simply fly some explosives from the States (no air trip could be more dangerously turbulent than the truck ride). What is certain is that for the rest of this long movie we watch two trucks with four truck drivers negotiate some difficult roads in the rain. Along the way they encounter such exciting obstacles as an Indian who makes faces at them, a bridge that swings when the wind blows, a tree that has fallen across the road, and a gang of completely unbelievable guerillas.

Despite this high adventure, the movie does not involve us. Sorcerer is supposed to remind us of exciting, old-time adventure movies, but in the old days the hero had a reason for undergoing his labors. In Sorcerer, the truck drivers are serving no revolution, protecting no freedom-loving resistance movement, fighting for no love, saving no lives (not that one life more or less would mean anything in the perverse world of this film). They are struggling instead for a large bonus on their paychecks; on their success depends only the job of the oil company's local manager, a fat unprincipled man for whom we feel contempt, at best.

The actors do their best to avoid rising above the script. The star of the movie, Roy Scheider of Jaws fame, looks like George C. Scott without Scott's nose, but he is also missing Scott's talent. The script forces the only talented actor to commit suicide near the onset of the movie. Too bad for him, maybe, but a great chance to splatter some more blood on the screen.

But then again, what do I know?

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