Sunday, December 25, 2011

Deliverance (1972)

What happens in the woods, stays in the woods

This is the grandfather of backwoods films. It's an adventure/thriller/drama but one that would be an inspiration for a number of horror films about country folks who now look all but merely simple. It has a basic plot but what makes it so iconic is a powerful and memorable delivery that has the capability to get stuck in one's head whenever thinking about the great outdoors, never mind trekking 'em. The film creates one of the most uncomfortable scenarios for any man to find himself in with villains that can't be shaken from one's mind with neither look nor their over-the-top lines. Not to mention anytime someone sees a banjo they might mention "Deliverance" out of habit, possibly without even seeing the film. The characters experience nature minus all of the distractions of technology from paddling in canoes to hunting and sitting around a fire and bonding, though it gets turned into a treacherous tale that even when seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the recollection of the dark side that they went through to get there never truly goes away.

A group of anxious guys from Atlanta go out for a once-in-a-lifetime weekend to experience the Cahulawasse River before a dam is built across it. They get an awe struck peek at the landscapes and its strange inhabitants who look like they lived unspoiled from the outside world for generations--same DNA, reused supplies and all. The lead of the group is Lewis: a hobby outdoorsman who tests limits and pushes buttons. His confidence is the size of the river itself but he also has a philosophy he abides by to fine tune his survival sense in case the modern machine society's built up fails. Ed looks up to his buddy but falls short of his staggering shadow, while the two other friends, Bobby and Drew, are straight city slickers in a far removed world that take the brand new adventure in stride.

Ed and Bobby split up with their canoe and take a break to the side of the river when they meet two demanding locals who have more knowhow of the loaded shotgun they're pointing than how to operate a toothbrush or subscribe to soap. Instead of the usual "You're trespassing" they get a "Now let's see you just drop them pants" from one of the crusty toothed men with a deviant look in his eye that's usually given to a girl on lover's lane. They get violated and thrown around but then gain the upperhand and kill one of the captors in self-defense while the other runs away. A debate ensues about what to do with either reporting it to the local law, who are probably in relation with each other, or burying the body in what's to be the new dam area. They want to put the horrible and humiliating situation behind them but their real issues have just begun: from pretending to be in survival mode in the beginning turns into the real deal from not only the unfamiliar wild but the escaped hillbilly who got away and knows the lay of the land better than any visitor could hope.

The structure doesn't follow a strict platform like other pictures. It starts out on a high note with fun and adventure, jumps right into its climax midway through, then slows down to make room for the dramatic as you get to know more about these men's lives with some emotional scenes. One could say the filmmakers put all of their energy in the beginning but another way of looking at it is what we represent on the surface isn't always who we really are. Usually it takes a stressful situation to put someone outside of their comfort zone to see their real personality come out: hence giving the usual proper introductions might have been fake anyway. The film did that so well that it even surprised the characters at what they were capable of doing due to switching to a primal state in the stark wilderness from living cooped up in the city and suppressing who we really are as a species. This gives a share of interaction with the audience in that it presents a number of "What would you do questions?" Your answer might not be any better than their's but it still creates an engaging experience to get wrapped up in. One that's both dangerous and enlightening and shows who really has it in them when the going gets rough. What would you sacrifice for your friends? Would you go outside the law? Commit retaliation?

Burt Reynolds has a sense of command with his role as Lewis, in that he rarely lets his guard down or lets it be known what he's thinking or going to do next. Jon Voight plays the middleman of Ed who's in between places but is forced to make the transition to the next level. Ned Beaty, as Bobby, represents the average me or you character in the way it's so much to handle that it hasn't even fully hit him. The filmmakers are capable of putting the viewer in the then and now with some authentic scenery, genuinely odd inhabitants to regular Joes who found themselves in the midst. There's some beautiful moments, tense situations and some surprises about the experience. What stands out is how nature can remain immobile when there's human turmoil amongst it. It's not judgmental, yet we seem to do what we want with it, when we want.

Rating: 9.5/10

Director: John Boorman (Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, Leo the Last)
Stars: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, Bill McKinney, Herbert Coward
Link: IMDB

No comments:

Post a Comment