Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it's turned into one huge lake, outdoor fanatic Lewis Medlock takes his friends on a river-rafting trip they'll never forget into the dangerous American back-country.
This was remarkable and scared the crap out of me. I read the book eons ago, probably 1988, for a first-year university class back when I was earning my first degree. Not a Burt Reynolds fan, and having only seen two other works by Boorman (the great 'Point Blank' and the not-so-great 'Exorcist II: The Heretic'), I wasn't in a huge hurry to rush out and see the film. BIG mistake on my part, to be frank.
Probably the gifted 83-year-old, Surrey native and five-time Oscar nominee's best work--and easily the finest work ever done by Reynolds, shortly before he simply rested on his laurels and became nothing but a caricature. THIS at the very least was proof that he at one time actually had chops and could act.
The scariest aspect of all is that this goes on all the time and we just don't know about it. Hundreds of people go 'missing' every day. And, as a Canadian, it's people like the culprits in this film that are responsible for America now having the worst Presidential candidate of all time actually having a chance of being the head of the most powerful country in the world. Now THAT's scary.
Brutal, Beautiful and Brilliant.
Four Atlanta friends - Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Ed (John Voight), Bobby (Ned Beatty), and Drew (Ronny Cox) – decide to canoe down the Cahulawassee River out in the Georgia wilderness. They see it as a test of manliness whilst also wanting to experience this part of nature before the whole valley is flooded over to make way for the upcoming construction of a dam and lake. But the perils of nature are not the only dangerous things in their midst, unfriendly wood folk are about to bring another dimension in terror.
Deliverance is one of those films that sometimes suffers by way of reputation. Much like Straw Dogs and 70s films of that type, the hype and promise of unremitting hell often isn't delivered to an expectant modern audience. Which is a shame since Deliverance is one of the finest, glummest, brutalistic and beautiful films of the 1970s.
Adapting from James Dickey's novel (screenplay duties here also), British director John Boorman crafts a tough and powerful film of men out of their environment, thus out of their league. As each man sets off initially, it's a test of manhood, but each guy is forced to deconstruct their worth, and it soon becomes more about survival as this deadly adventure proceeds. Boorman, aided by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, has painted a raw and treacherous landscape, unconquered by city slickers but dwelt in by inbreds who don't take kindly to the city folk showing up with their machismo attitudes. From the first point of contact with the strange locals, where Drew goes "duelling banjos" with an odd looking child, the film doesn't let up, much like the locals themselves, the film also is remorseless. Some critics over the years have proclaimed that Deliverance is too pretty, mistaking lush physicality as something detracting from the dark thematics at work. Not so, the Chattooga River sequences are electrifying, the rapids scenes (brilliantly filmed with Voight and Reynolds doing real work, and getting real injuries) are merely setting up the unmanning of our "macho" guys just around the corner. It's a fabulous and potent piece of "beauty". With the four cast leaders absolutely brilliant in their respective roles. In fact there are few better casting decisions ever than that of Reynolds as Lewis, one can only lament that he didn't have more hard edged serious roles in his career.
Minor itches exist, metaphors are heavy (Vietnam a 70s staple it seems) while ecological concerns are hinted at without being as prominent as they are in the novel. Surveying the landscape during the opening of the piece, Lewis reflects that man is going to rape this land, rape it, it's stuff like that that is not totally formed, given way to abject horror and survival, Lewis again noting that survival is the name of the game. A game of life and death, where man's primal being means violence may indeed beget violence. Boorman clearly agreed. 10/10
The Banjo scene still haunts me today!
Never mind the New Beaty scene.