Crime, Thriller & Mainstream Reviews (Page 2)

12 Reviews (2 New)

A Dark and Scary Place

Choke (2008)

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Starring: Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston

Directed by Clark Gregg

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

March 2009

Victor Mancini is a self-confessed sex addict. He attends 'anonymous' group meetings, but only to find other sex partners. He works by day at a Colonial-Williamsburg-themed park - unable to take his role seriously - so that he can support his sick mother who is in a home. In addition, he uses a scam he adopted as a kid, whereby he fakes choking in expensive restaurants so that he can appeal for money to whomever 'saves' him...


You can never be sure how our mysterious editor's mind works, so I can't be certain, but I think I might have been sent this one by mistake. It's not the kind of thing I normally review. Personally, I think he sneaked it in among the horror films - but don't tell him I told  you.


Choke is a film which tries to be clever whilst seeming to be something quite light-hearted and mundane. The title, whilst linking to a recurring event in the film, is obviously also a sexual innuendo. On the surface this sometimes resembles an old soft core porn movie - perhaps Confessions of an Insecure Sex Addict, or more accurately Carry On Being Pretentious. I say that because there's the underlying story of con artist Victor's mother suffering from Alzheimer's in a home, thereby keeping the secrets of his childhood from being revealed. Anjelica Huston gives this part some much needed conviction.


This film has been described as a psychotic comedy, and it does have its moments. When his mother's diary is discovered, written mysteriously in Italian, Victor seeks the aid of a female doctor with the know-how to translate. She tells him he is an immaculate conception. He doesn't believe it, of course, but particularly at the home everyone dotes after him, no matter how he treats them. In fact, there is a fascinating twist in the relationship between the two which effectively brings the plot full circle.


Choke is a film which you might watch on Channel 5 late on a Friday night after returning from the pub, but it's not going to have much mainstream appeal.

Verdict: 4 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2009) 

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Black Sun - The Nanking Massacre (1995)

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Starring: Liang Zhang, Haman Hu, Ming Chiang, Kathleen Ann DeBoer

Directed by Tun Fei Mou

Tartan Grindhouse

September 2006

Black Sun tells the story of the Nanking Massacre. In the early stages of World War II the Japanese invaded the Chinese city in a bid to claim the territory...


Call me old fashioned but I've always considered the primary purpose of a feature to be to entertain, no matter the genre I'm watching. I'll admit up front that I'm not really a lover of war films (there are a couple of exceptions to the rule), but the Nanking Massacre is a real life atrocity from history when a great deal of innocent people were raped, tortured or butchered (sometimes all three) by generals and soldiers with no humanity.

                      

Serve me up any number of hack 'n' slash horror movies and I won't bat an eyelid (although plot should come before gore every time), but you'll forgive me for turning my nose up at the prospect of viewing a graphic and bloody re-enactment of one of the worst moments in history. You can't exactly sit down with your bucket of popcorn or your bottle of beer and enjoy this.


Okay, I know it's a film with actors playing roles, but it simply made me feel uncomfortable, as if I were helplessly watching the real event take place - especially when scenes were punctuated with black and white WWII footage. If director T.F. Mou's purpose was to shock with Black Sun, then he's achieved his aim; however, I can't help thinking if an historian wants to discover more about this dark chapter in time, why not just seek out the news reels.

 

No matter what the promotional packaging says, this is not a horror film in the conventional sense and will not appeal to cult fans. Tartan have released some great titles, but if this and Last House On Dead End Street are anything to go by then perhaps they should drop their Tartan Grindhouse range.

 

Not for me. 

Verdict: 1 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2006) 

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City By the Sea (2002)

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Starring: Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, Eliza Dushku and William Forsythe

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones

Warner Home Video

July 2003

Joey LaMarca, son of the respected Police Lieutenant Vincent LaMarca, kills a dealer in a drug-induced state. Vincent tries to be the father he has thus far neglected to be, by investigating the incident, bringing in his son and cleaning him up. However, an associate of the dealer wants the money he thinks Joey has stolen. When the lieutenant's partner is killed by the man whilst looking for Joey, everyone thinks the cop's son is responsible. This appears to be substantiated by the discovery of a gun with Joey's prints on it. Suddenly, nobody is listening to Vincent, and the media begins to dishonour his name...

Robert DeNiro has never particularly been my cup of tea. Here, he's not too bad. That's pretty gracious of me, don't you think? It's refreshing to see the man playing an honest and genuine law enforcement officer, without any of that steroid-waving, macho one-man-band exaggeration so prevalent to these kind of stories. All of the violence comes from other people, and that works fine. It's also unusual to have the woman in the broken marriage being portrayed as the guilty party, rather than the standard aggressive, drunken or workaholic husband.

Having said all that, this film still principally concerns drugs and shootings, and we've seen far too much of that already. I can't imagine many people - even avid fans of DeNiro - viewing this repeatedly, but it is just interesting enough to be worth seeing once.

Verdict: 5 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003) 

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Frailty (2002)

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Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe & Matt O'Leary

Directed by Bill Paxton

Paramount

March 2003

A man walks into the FBI building and tells Agent Doyle that his brother is the God's Hand killer. He tells the backstory which begins with his childhood. He and his brother live alone with their father. Everything is normal until dad tells them he has been visited by an angel. Apparently, the final battle between angels and demons has begun. The demons are already here in human form, and it is the family's task to destroy them. When the angel revisits, relaying a list of names, the killing begins...


When I watched the opening shot of Agent Doyle exiting his car wearing a stereotypical mean expression, and walking through a night storm to the FBI building, I couldn't help sighing. This was going to be another one of the multitude of tired cops and robbers films that Americans insist on doing so badly. Matters didn't immediately improve when I realised a small part of the early plot was similar to a short story I had written some years ago. Thieves! Plagiarists! Where's my money?


Ahem, where was I? Oh, yes, being dreadfully wrong. Frailty (The God's Hand Killer would have been a good title) quickly lifts itself from the mire and into the elite stream. As time passes it's becoming increasingly difficult for the horror genre to reinvent itself. This film leans more towards thriller, but there's a hint of a supernatural element hanging over the events.


The entire package is extremely effective, even though one of the twists at the conclusion is blatantly predictable. The script doesn't need to be totally original, because it's so well told. However, it's the strong central characters and the actors' corresponding performances that make the tale so convincing. Bill Paxton, making his directorial debut here, plays the angel-visited dad. The two boys, who play Adam and Fenton, are even better, both displaying genuine reactions. Their expressions alone draw you into the emotional mix. One sees his dad as a murderer and longs to run away, but he won't leave his brother behind; and his brother trusts dad, having no problem (only a strange fascination) with what is going on.


Every once in a while it's nice to be pleasantly surprised, and that's precisely what happened here.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003) 

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Hell's Kitchen (1998)

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Starring: Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette & Mekhi Phifer

Directed by Tony Cinciripini

CDA Entertainment

April 2003

When three friends organise a robbery, their plans go tragically awry, culminating in Gloria's younger brother being shot and killed. She blames Johnny, who is imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. When Johnny is paroled, he returns to Hell's Kitchen - the streets of New York, trying to make a new life for himself. He teams-up with an ex-boxing champ, who agrees to train him, but a corrupt promoter takes him on. However, Johnny has the added problem that Gloria is gunning for him. Gloria has her own problems though. Her lover Patty, the person actually responsible for her brother's death, is immersed in a world of drugs and violence and has drawn Gloria's mother in, too...

Although Hell's Kitchen is one story, it actually consists of three segments which are very different in style, and incorporate three plot strands. The first depicts the robbery and what happens when it goes wrong. This is extremely hard going; as a reviewer I felt forcibly obligated to persevere. The characters' mothers get almost constant mention, if you get my drift. I'm not averse to swearing being used anywhere in fiction within its context, but there's so much effing and blinding in the film that without it the dialogue would be only half its length. Extreme violence, continual conflict, everyone and his uncle on drugs... Is New York really like this? And if so, do people really want to watch a fictional film which, certainly early on, appears to glorify it?

The second section follows Johnny's return to the streets, and Gloria's agonising relationship with her mother and Patty. Johnny is cleaner than clean. After boxing regularly in prison, he now seeks professional fights. Gloria turns up intending to kill him. Her mother and Patty have struck up a drug-induced violent sexual relationship, and she learns belatedly that Patty harbours a guilty secret. This occupies the majority of the running time. It's the getting to the point when everything is out in the open and three old friend's lives are at a turning point. Ironically, the boxing bout scenes are almost incidental to the plot, and yet they are easily the most impressive. It makes me wonder if it might have been better to centre on the boxing, and have Johnny's past threaten his shot at the title.

The final section comes in a series of vignetted epilogues. Each scene slowly fades out, making you believe the film is about to end, only to be followed by another, and yet another. Johnny, without really trying that hard, has turned everyone's life around. He has paired-up with Gloria, who is pregnant with their child. Gloria's mother is in rehab, and patching things up with her daughter. Patty is visited in a psychiatric hospital by Johnny, who wants to rekindle their friendship - as unlikely as this might sound, after being imprisoned for the man's crime and then almost being shot by him. But it seems Patty has an excuse for his misdemeanours: he was beaten as a child. Oh, Please!

I can see what
Hell's Kitchen is trying to achieve: to overcome and climb from the ghetto of their youth. To build futures for themselves. I suppose, in that respect it succeeds. But don't expect too much from this offering, because you won't get it.

Verdict: 3 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003) 

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High Crimes (2002)

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Starring: Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman & Jim Caviezel

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

March 2003

An attorney with no prior knowledge of military court procedures is forced to defend her soldier husband when he is accused of summarily executing nine civilians in El Salvador. Soliciting the aid of the best ex-military lawyer around, she soon suspects a cover-up surrounding a covert operation. Refusing a deal places her life, and those closest to her, in danger...


This is one of those courtroom dramas which highlights the rebel in us all. For that reason alone it's far from original. How many celluloid underdogs have we seen go up against the government, the military, mobsters or any other establishment in an apparent no-win situation? That many? Well, there you are then!


However, I can understand the validity of wishing to clear a loved one's name and reputation at all costs, and that's the main strength of this film. Morgan Freeman eases his way through most performances with little sign of outward effort; nevertheless, you can't help but enjoy his understated example again here. Why his character has to be an ex-alcoholic though is beyond me, as this is practically the most overused strand of plot padding in American film history.


I'd like to say more positive things about High Crimes, but the truth is I'm struggling. It's watchable but mediocre fair. Even the inevitable twist succeeds little in jolting the nerves or getting the blood pumping. File under: Nothing New.

Verdict: 4 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003) 

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The Long Lunch (2003)

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Starring: Jeanette Cronin, Ian Bliss, Vince Gil, Alex Menglet and Victor Rodger

Written & Directed by Antony Redman

CDA Entertainment

November 2003

A gang meet in a restaurant to finalise their plans for an armed robbery on a diamond warehouse, planned for the next day. The restaurant staff decide to borrow their car, equipment and disguises and carry out the robbery today, and be back before the gang have finished their lunch. However, the plans go awry when one of the women is recognised by her uncle who owns the diamonds. They discuss an insurance scam between them, but it is interrupted when a third party arrives to take over the robbery...

What do you get when you cross a bunch of less than mediocre actors with a thin plot so porous you could strain your vegetables with it? Well... you get The Long Lunch actually. Thoughts of straining my vegetables keeps it fresh in my mind just how painful this is to watch.

Any good film maker would have severe difficulty filling only a twenty minute slot with merely this to work with. The emphasis here is on long. I thought I'd somehow slipped into another dimension where every minute lasts an hour. With no meat on the bones of the story, the vast majority of the running time is taken up with superfluous timewasting scenes.

The woman who leads the gang in the restaurant is having an open relationship with one of the men, but has a quickie on the video game machine with one of the others. Two of the men have a pointless gun-related argument about Elton John and Princess Diana. A man gets punched out because he releases another man's birthday present of a puppy for his daughter, fearing it will be eaten by Orientals.
Gripping stuff, eh?

Try as I might, I just can't think of anything good to say about this disaster. A lame attempt to inject humour surrounding the restaurant staff's bungled robbery hits so far wide of the mark that they really shouldn't have bothered. Hang on a minute, I don't think they did anyway. Tilting their heads from side to side whilst making high-pitched Tweenie squeaking noises doesn't constitute humour in my book.

Proceedings become progressively more stupid as the film nears its end. Quite frankly, it comes as a significant relief when practically the entire cast of characters get shot or blown up.

Did you know you can put unwanted DVD discs to a multitude of good uses these days? How about a clock? A fetching pair of Bet Lynch earrings? A Frisbee? Or maybe just a beer mat?

Can you believe there are actually extras on this disc? Call me a non-completist if you wish, but I couldn't stomach watching the deleted scenes too. If I had anything to do with it a lot more scenes would have bitten the dust.

In case you haven't got the message yet, don't waste your hard earned cash on this nonsense. The single point is for the cast and crew remembering to turn up. On second thoughts, that wasn't such a good idea!

Verdict: 1 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003) 

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Protection (2001)

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Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Katie Griffin & Peter Gallagher

Directed by John Flynn

Momentum Pictures

December 2002

New York mobster Sal Veronica has a choice: testify against his mobster family or go to jail...

You haven't slipped into a coma yet, have you?! There are no prizes for guessing what happens next in Protection. Valuing freedom before loyalty he chooses the former and moves his family to a new area under the wing of the police witness protection scheme. When he enters into a business partnership with a new friend Sal (now using the surname Vincent) uses the connections of a local crime boss to get things moving. But you should never shake hands with a snake, because you might grab the end that bites. The crime boss double-crosses the partners and attempts to take control of the business.

However, super smooth Sal is having none of it. He threatens the boss and shows he's made of sterner stuff. Forced to extremes the boss discovers our dark hero's background and arranges for some old acquaintances to show up with guns and bags of vengeance.

I tried very hard to like this movie, but it's nothing that hasn't been seen a hundred times before: bad guy turns good, but turns bad to do good... if you see what I mean!

A hackneyed plot isn't helped by bland characters who inspire not one iota of sympathy. It seems that Sal is every woman's dream (he beds the wife of a man who has him investigated, his partner's wife continually eyes him up, and even his partner's teenage daughter lusts after him. Stephen Baldwin plays the main character cool; so cool, in fact, that he practically falls asleep standing up. I know how he feels.

Verdict: 4 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2002) 

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Q & A (1990)

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Starring: Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton & Armand Assante

Directed by Sidney Lumet

20th Century Fox

March 2003

 A police detective lures a man out the rear door of a nightclub and shoots him dead. He places a gun in the dead man's hand, before threatening a couple of lowlifes into backing his story. Al Reilly is a young lawyer whose first job for the D.A.'s office is to tie-up this "cut and dried" case of self-defence. Nobody expects him to dig deep; what he discovers is a conceited and thoroughly crooked but respected cop. In fact, it seems that almost everyone around him is a bigot on the political trail. It's difficult to know who to trust. And just to throw an additional spanner in the works, the wife of a gangland boss witness is Reilly's old flame...


Q&A is another example of an individual going up against the establishment. However, in this case it's a little more realistic, in that there's no good guy as such, and all the characters are various shades of grey. Nothing exactly goes according to plan either. There are plenty of disasters, and no happy outcome. In this manner, it's a little reminiscent of The X-Files: no aliens (only illegal ones) but plenty of internal cover-ups.


Nick Nolte copes well with a pretty run-of-the-mill script. His character manipulates everyone around him, amidst a city den of iniquity. Everywhere you look there's transvestites, racists, crooks and blasphemers, and it's obvious the setting is intended to spawn the hard-hitting bent cop, who sees himself as the untouchable judge, jury and executioner.


Although Q&A is set in America, and it's a world apart from the Britain of today, this film doesn't inspire confidence in law and order. There's no doubt that corruption does occasionally take place; however, our friends from across the pond do tend to be moderately obsessed with conspiracies. The fact that we've witnessed so many of these "plots", in effect belittles the overall impact of the film. And one more thing: modern day fictional gangsters/hoodlums leave me cold.


This is a movie you could comfortably sit down and watch on TV one evening, if you've got nothing more productive to do, but it's nothing special, and certainly won't stand repeated viewings. With no extras, it's another poor release.

Verdict: 4 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003) 

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Read My Lips (2001)

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Starring: Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Devos & Olivier Gourmet

Directed by Jacques Audiard

Pathe

March 2003

Carla is a hard of hearing and rather insecure secretary in a contracts company. When her boss instructs her to employ herself an assistant (you can tell this is fiction, can't you!), she approaches the task like a dating agency. Paul turns out to be a criminal straight out of prison. When some old "friends" materialise to demand money from him, Paul arranges to work in their club until he has paid off his debt. However, old habits die hard. Carla finds herself dragged by Paul into discovering the villains' current scheme, and relieving them of their money...


Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What, you want more? Sigh! Okay.


At one time I used to avoid subtitled films like the plague. That was before I learned non-English speaking dialogues do not necessarily relate to bad movies. The original Japanese version of The Ring, and the more recent masterpiece that is The Eye are two good examples. Unfortunately, this French film isn't another one. I was obliged to view Read My Lips in four sittings, as each time I started to watch it I felt myself slipping into a coma.


This is the kind of experience you need to set your alarm clock to endure; guaranteed, 10 minutes into it you'll be snoring contentedly. Dull? Bland? Pointless? Yes, all of those. There is a sense of going through the motions with no real drive or purpose in mind. It's difficult to know at whose feet to lay the blame: scriptwriter, director, cast; they're probably all equally at fault. It makes you wonder why they bothered. Bring back Power Ranger-Ninja Turtles, At least they were a lot about nothing. Read My Lips is nothing about nothing.

Verdict: 1 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003) 

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Reeseville (2003)

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Starring: Brad Hunt, Majandra Delfino and Mark Hamill

Directed by Christian Otjen

Mosaic Entertainment

October 2004

In the little US town of Reeseville a man is discovered hanged after his wife has died in childbirth. The dead man's brother-in-law, the local coroner and undertaker, suspects something more sinister. The prime suspect for murder is David Meyers, the dead man's son, who has returned home after 20 years away. While the sheriff wanders around warning people, and Meyers, a convicted felon, creeps people out with his quietly threatening attitude and daring ways, Iris, the sheriff's younger sister finds herself attracted to the bad boy. She makes the mistake of telling Meyers how the sheriff beat her last boyfriend to death when he got her pregnant, but Meyers may not be the most dangerous person in the town...

Reeseville
is a very basic town-hides-secret scenario, with Meyers as the stranger who stirs up the mix. In reality he does little more than lurch about trying to look dangerous.

Even the presence of Mark Hamill as Zeek the undertaker does little to lift this from the surface of planet average.
The very attractive Missy Crider is the only person in the film with any sort of personality.

So many films of this ilk are cram-packed with bland characters who are only going through the motions, their motivation obviously the pay cheque. Americans are seeing this sort of thing every day and they're seldom impressed, so why should we be? If you're going to film a very ordinary story, then you have to breathe some life into it.

I'm afraid that this is one of those films you watch hoping that something will jump out, hook you and gently reel you in; so it's doubly depressing when nothing much happens.

Verdict: 2 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004) 

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Sorcerer (1977)

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Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou and Ramon Bieri

Directed by William Friedkin

Distributor: Entertainment One

November 2017

Four men from different parts of the world fall foul of the law in a big way (we see their individual stories) and end up in the Dominican Republic where, to earn the money they need to continue their respective journeys, they are obliged to accept a job driving two trucks carrying unstable gelignite across 200 miles of rough terrain to an oil fire which needs to be put out. The chances of success are very slim as the slightest jolt can signal instant annihilation. The job is made all the more difficult by the fact they don’t exactly see eye to eye...

40 years after its release Sorcerer gets a brand new launch – this time to generally rave reviews. Some say it is William Friedkin’s best work.

For many film fans Friedkin will need no introduction. He was the director of
The French Connection (considered by many to be the ultimate crime thriller) and The Exorcist (one of the finest films ever made). By the time he proposed the notion of Sorcerer, in the eyes of backers, he could do no wrong. Universal Pictures and Paramount studios joined forces to welcome his new vision. Steve McQueen was first choice for the lead role. However, as he had just married he felt reluctant to jet off across the world for any length of time. Failing to convince the director to relocate to the USA, he pulled out and Friedkin went for Roy Scheider (who was currently popular with cinema audiences for his role in Jaws). Friedkin had a very solid arrangement for locations in the Dominican Republic.

Upon its initial release the film bombed. The majority of cinema goers were not overly enamoured, it seemed, and many critics were less kind. There were three main problems. Firstly, Americans weren’t attracted by the mostly foreign and unknown (to many) actors. Secondly, there were no heroes. Friedkin has never believed in them, citing that everyone is at least flawed. So all four main players are villains of one sort or another, allowing no audience relation or sympathy. In fact, the title
Sorcerer is meant in the context of an evil wizard who manipulates events to his advantage – although much of what these characters try to do goes wrong, so you can’t even root for the bad guy. Mostly, it was down to bad timing though; it emerged in 1977 amidst Star Wars mania. The George Lucas film revolutionised overnight what cinema viewers expected from the experience.

Sorcerer was put on the shelf, so to speak, after around only two weeks and hasn’t seen the light of day until now. This is a momentous release (cleaned-up and presented on Blu-ray, with a reversible sleeve which gives the option of the film poster) because, although it’s not the best film you’ll ever see, it’s significantly superior to the treatment it originally received. We live in an age now whereby most individuals are prepared to give any film a try and judge it by its content and enjoyment factor, rather than on the year in which it was made, its budget or from what country it originated.

What you have to bear in mind is
Sorcerer was done ‘for real’ – meaning there were no special effects. The trucks really drove along overhanging sheer drops, they really drove inch by inch across the dilapidated wooden swinging rope bridge, and they set real explosives to blow-up the huge fallen tree blocking their path. In fact, this last obstacle is overcome using a simple but clever timer device to allow them to be clear at the time of the explosion.

The screenplay to
Sorcerer is by Walon Green, and is based on the novel The Wages of Fear, by Georges Arnaud. The music is composed and performed by soundtrack specialists Tangerine Dream. Friedkin asked them to score his next film after seeing them perform in an old church in Germany. The sound style sounds at times a lot like John Carpenter (no bad thing!), with a building of suspense and a definite relentlessness. There is no sentimentality here.

After ten minutes or so of abject confusion, the viewer begins to realise the background is being given to each of the four main character villains. The adventure really begins once we learn of the oil fire and the need for the sweaty gelignite. As with the minis escaping with the gold in
The Italian Job, the main heart of the film is the potentially suicidal journey in the two trucks holding the explosives. The running time for this sequence goes by in a moment.

As an extra there is an excellent interview with William Friedkin wherein we witness his no nonsense manner and complete belief in the work he does. Friedkin says a lot of things that make sense, but we also capture an inkling of just why so many people couldn’t get on with the guy. It’s a real eye-opener and so gains an extra mark just for this inclusion.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017) 

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