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Film / Sorcerer

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Four wanted men from around the world escape to the jungle-laden oil fields of South America, evading the authorities for their various crimes. In the midst of their hiding, they are chosen to take on a job that may result in their gruesome deaths or a handsome reward: delivering large quantities of Nitroglycerin to an out of control oil well 218 miles north. All around these men lies a lingering essence of survival, daring odds, and overcoming personal differences. With two trucks built from the mothballed rustbuckets who've seen better days, William Friedkin's Sorcerer is a film not about magic but about metaphysical wonder.

Made in 1977, based on the 1953 The Wages of Fear, itself adapted from Georges Arnaud's Le Salaire de la Peur, Sorcerer boasts a famed international cast featuring Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou.


One of the last films of The New Hollywood era. After the successes of The French Connection and The Exorcist, William Friedkin had originally conceived Sorcerer as a side project alongside the scrapped The Devil's Triangle, soon having its resources integrated in making the former film. With extensive shooting in the Dominican Republic among other locations, the project ran over its intended $15M budget. It also had the misfortune of being released more or less concurrently with the juggernaut that was Star Wars, which—along with less-than-stellar critical reviews—doomed it to box office failure, although it has become something of a Cult Classic in subsequent decades, and contemporary critical reception has since massively improved.


Tropes appearing in this film:

  • Ace Custom: Justified. Both trucks are assembled specially for the journey and out of parts scavenged from all the vehicles standing in the company's yard, making them most suitable for their job despite starting out as little more than two most sturdy chassis.
  • Adventurer Outfit: When starting their voyage, Victor is wearing one, consisting ofa worn-down leather jacket, khaki trousers and a hat.
  • America Saves the Day: Between an American managing the operation and Jackie being the sole survivor, a more cynical example emerges, especially given Jackie's bitterness in the end.
  • Argentina is Nazi-Land: "Marquez" and "Carlos" the bartender are presumably former Nazis hiding in Porvenir.
  • A-Team Montage/The Great Repair: The long sequence in which the four men assemble two trucks out of the scrap material and old wrecks in the company's yard, with the music slowly swelling in the background and getting more and more optimistic with each element fixed or installed. It is also predating The A-Team by almost a decade.
  • Anyone Can Die: Other than the hapless natives and locals, "Marquez" is killed off by Nilo, leading to the latter's inclusion on the journey. Victor and Kassem are blown up rounding the mountains, Nilo bleeds out after being shot by guerrillas, and Jackie's fate remains unknown. Alongside that include Nilo's unnamed target, Kassem's fellow terrorists, Victor's business partner, and Jackie's fellow mobsters.
  • Banana Republic: With rich oil deposits, the country surrounding Porvenir is most likely one given its military dictatorship and American-managed labor force.
  • Badass Driver: All four men picked for the mission are extremely good drivers, with Jackie even previously "working" as a getaway driver. Kassem also Drives Like Crazy, as shown during his driving test, when he ignores the presence of the children on road, but still doesn't bump with the truck. Averted with Nilo, who didn't pass the test, so he killed "Marquez" instead and showed up to replace him.
  • Big Badass Rig: Both Sorcerer and Lazaro, a delivery trucks assembled by the main characters for their voyage.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: After Jackie Scanlon delivers the nitro to the drilling site, Lartigue and Co. bring him back to Porvenir for paycheck, a drink and a measure of peace for the first time. Unbeknownst to him, Spider, his former friend, leads a group of mobsters (who he double-crossed early on in the film) to the bar. With it surrounded, Spider and another mobster enter as the soundtrack swells and a shot is heard right before the credits roll, leaving Jackie's fate unknown.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The camera doesn't take a close-up on the shovel being attached to the truck for no reason.
  • Company Town: A very dark version. Porvenir is a village entirely taken over by Lartigue and Co. oiling company, who are the only job provider. It's a dilapidated shanty town with no hopes and no way of getting out without a hefty stack of money that is impossible to make with local wages.
  • Cool Old Guy: From all what's shown, "Marquez" is one, being an old "veteran" of being trapped in the village and having a steady, inter-generational friendship with Kassem.
  • Corrupt Cop: The two guards that caught Jack let him loose... but only so they can collect racket in form of 1/3 of his pay.
  • Crapsack World: Porvenir is a poor village in the middle of nowhere, looking like a shanty. People are working (if they have a job at all) for pennies and are permamently trapped, since they can't earn or save enough to get out of there. The company running the oil operation is implied to be smearing the hands of all officials or even the central government. Everything looks like if it was about to collapse and break down any minute. People are so desperate they show up in droves to sign up for a Suicide Mission and the executive of the oil company not only considers them disposable (while still picking only the best four), but won't even hear about negotiating the pricenote .
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to the original film. And to very good effect, since the movie makes a painstaking effort to show the hostility of the environment and danger of the mission, using derelict equipment in roadless jungle.
  • Diabolus ex Machina:
    • Sorcerer suddenly catches a flat, goes off-road, the cargo tumbles and explodes, killing Victor and Kassem. It comes completely out of nowhere.
    • After all the hardships, effort, work and fighting, Lazaro's engine simply dies two miles before the destination. Jackie, already suffering from Heroic BSoD and being at the end of his limit, is forced to carry a crate full of leaking dynamite for the rest of the way in his hands.
    • The very final scene. Spider and another mobster get out of cab right in front of the Porvenir's only bar, where Jackie is celebrating his comeback. Seconds before the screen fades to black, a shot is fired inside.
  • Downer Ending: Three of the four drivers died on the way. Scanlon is most likely shot in the last second of the film. The village is still in deep poverty and exploited by the oil company. And assuming Jack is dead, Victor's wife probably won't get his last letter too.
  • Driven to Madness: Happens to the entire party to differing degrees, most prominent being Nilo and then Jackie.
  • Driven to Suicide: Victor's partner, Pascal, Ate His Gun after their company runs into serious financial troubles.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Marquez's off-screen murder. And for people unfamiliar with the source material, Vincent and Kassem's sudden deaths can easily qualify too.
  • Demolitions Expert: Kassem has rather... special experience in this field.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Unlike the original film, Sorcerer is one of the rare instances where this trope is pulled successfully, even if the movie takes 25 minutes and four different storylines to just reach Porvenir at all and then the Nitro Express plot doesn't start for another 20 minutes. When Victor and Kassem suddenly die on-screen by the end of the film, it hits and it hits hard.
  • Dueling Movies: Released alongside some weird little B-movie that was never going to do well titled Star Wars. Said B-movie would chew this one up and spit out what was left at the box office.
  • Exposition: Done cleverly when Victor is going to pawn his watch to get a ticket out of the country. The scene is intercut a few times with "Marquez" and Kassem talking about the amount of money needed for such trip. Viewers know already how futile the pawning will be, while Victor still has hopes about selling the present from his wife to have a chance to see her again.
  • Fatal Family Photo: The watch serves as such. The moment Victor starts talking about home and the atmosphere is getting upbeat, you know something is up...
  • Foreign Remake: Technically, it's American remake of The Wages of Fear (it was even released under the same title in Europe by distributors), but it only takes the basic idea for a Nitro Express in Banana Republic. Unlike typical remake, this one greatly expands on character depth and motivation, rather than the one-dimensional random schmucks from Wages, and actually makes their journey dangerous by rising the stakes much higher than the original ever could or dared.
  • Grease Monkey: A curious case with Victor. Despite his background, he's also great with machines and apparently was a keen fan of motorisation, being the one doing all the most complex repairs with the trucks.
  • Hair-Trigger Explosive: Due to old age, improper storage and not being turned, the dynamite sticks leaked all the nitroglicerine, making it highly volatile, as it's basically liquid nitroglicerine in parchment bags and with dry dynamite sticks floating in it.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: When the guerillas stop the truck, they openly speak in Spanish about killing both drivers on the road. Too bad they've assumed Nilo doesn't know any Spanish.
  • Hungry Jungle: The jungle is just a plain hostile environment, but it's most prominent when the drivers find out the road blocked by a giant tree and have to figure a way around it. Just stepping away from the road for few steps causes Jackie to end up chin-deep in marsh and unable to continue any step further.
  • Hyperlink Story: The film opens with four featurettes, each unrelated with another, disclosing details about main characters and their backgrounds. They only start to slowly connect when the plot moves to Porvenir.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted with Nilo, who took one in the guts and is dying for few hours. And justified with the guerillas he gunned down, as they all get nice, clean headshots.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: "Marquez" and Kassem were friends before the group assembled for the transport. This makes Kassem's violent reaction to "Marquez" murder even more poignant.
  • Irish Mob: Jackie's a member, leading to crashing in on a church racket before the chase which leaves Jackie the only one alive. Lightning struck twice only for him by the end.
  • Joisey: Where Jackie's story begins, in Elizabeth, NJ.
  • Jump Scare: Despite the movie not being a horror film, there is an instance of this anyway, when a tree suddenly hits the bridge and the truck on it. And it happens right after Victor almost drives over Kaseem by accident, making it all that more jumpy due to already high tension.
  • Kill ’Em All: If Jackie was indeed shot dead in the final second of the film, then it's the case, with all five men getting killed at different point of the story.
  • Middle Eastern Terrorists: Kassem's background, as a Palestine bomber in Jerusalem. Leads to an awesome moment where he devises a way to blow a huge log out of the road.
  • Mythology Gag: In the original movie, set in early 50s, all the equipment was brand new and just brought on site by Americans for their big oiling enterprise. In the remake, all the gear, tools and hardware look like they were brought to Porvenir in the 50s and then left to rot and rust for next 25 years with no maintenance, while even the Americans running the operation are weary, tired and past their prime.
  • Nitro Express: The central characters have to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerin over 218 miles off roads and using basic trails through jungle, mountains and dry badlands.
  • Nonindicative Title: Despite everyone warning Friedkin it could possibly backfire, he insisted on titling the movie "Sorcerer" (originally it was titled "Ballbreaker"), without even fully reinforcing the importance of the word for the movie or its plot. Audiences, expecting another supernatural film after The Exorcist, were disappointed. Which in turn further affected poor ticket sales due to bad word-of-mouth opinions.
  • Novelization: By John Minahan.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: While obviously an alias, viewers never learn the true name of "Marquez".
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: All of the men and their pretense at being locals. Jack gets in trouble for this, as he know only few Spanish words while his papers state he's a native resident.
  • Polyglot: Aside of his native French, Victor speaks English, German and some Spanish. Since he was an investment banker, this is not all that surprising.
  • Pop-Star Composer: After The Exorcist struck gold with Tubular Bells, Friedkin consulted another Virgin Records-signed outfit in Tangerine Dream. Sorcerer would be their first soundtrack before making dozens more for the next two decades.
  • Professional Killer: Nilo is implied to be a hitman for hire.
  • Riches to Rags: Currently Victor is doing menial jobs at an oil rig and lives in a shanty. He was an investment banker not long time ago. On the other hand, for local standards his conditions are still one step above the remaining men.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Zig-Zagged. Depending on the scene and context, dialogue in other languages besides English either comes with full translation or none at all, with the context not always being clear.
  • Revenge Before Reason: The robbed mob boss declares money, time and resources don't matter - he wants Scanlon and he wants him dead.
  • Ridiculously Difficult Route: The only way to haul the leaking dynamite is to take 218 miles through mountainous jungle area, with only dirt roads to use and trucks assembled from old car wreckage. To make it all that harder, it takes is a single bump and the cargo goes ka-boom.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Was Nilo sent after Jack? Was he really just in transit to Managua? After all, he could just kill Scalion at any given moment if he was actually after him.
    • Was "Marquez" a former Nazi or just some old chump? Or the bar owner, for that matter - he understands German with no problems whatsoever, but aside of that, there is absolutely no indication of his origins.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: A crude example, making it more awesome: To clear a huge log from the road, Kassem cuts a notch in a sensitive area, filling it with some nitro. He then props a rock together with sticks and rope. A bag of sand provides a makeshift timer. Once the bag is empty enough, the rock falls, and BOOM.
  • Scenery Porn: The shots in the jungle are absolutely fantastic, doubly so in the 2014 remastered version, where all the vegetation is in intense, lush tones, further standing out from the weary trucks and even more weary drivers.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Pretty much how it all begins, with Kassem, Victor and Jackie running away from their troubles and ending up trapped in Porvenir.
  • Shovel Strike: Jackie kills one of the guerillas by bashing his head with a shovel.
  • Sole Survivor: Kassem and Jackie in the prologue. Only Jackie does this twice.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The violently out-of-control oil well. See also Rube Goldberg Device and Wham Shot.
  • Suicide Mission: Not only is it a Nitro Express, but the nitro itself is extremely volatile due to inproper storage and the trucks used for transportations are old wrecks. The mission is openly stated as such by the helicopter pilot.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Between Scalion and Nilo, as Jackie is very much aware Nilo killed "Marquez", but still needs someone as a spare driver.
    Scalion: Listen Pancho, I've been clocking you every second you've been in this town. If you wanna pick your nose in this truck, you better clear it with me first, otherwise I'm taking you and this nitro right into a ditch!
  • Title Drop: An infamously ineffective one. The truck Victor and Kassem use is called Sorcerer. The name is seen in only two brief takes. Ironically, a name is painted on a truck, but it's Lazaro, for the truck used by Jackie. The working title for the movie - Ballbreaker - was much more fitting and without hinting or misleading about any supernatural after The Exorcist.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Neither Jackie nor Nilo exchange a single word when they are stopped by the guerillas, yet they manage to kill them all by sheer improvisation and surprise effect. And this all while they clearly hate each others guts.
  • Vehicle Title: Sorcerer is the name given to one of the trucks, although this fact is obscured in the movie (see Title Drop above).
  • Wham Shot: As Victor and Kassem talk while rounding the mountain pass, their truck slips into the crevasse below, detonating the nitro inside and killing them both.
  • White Collar Crime: Victor's predicament. After fraud accusations from the Paris Stock Exchange, he pressures his partner, Pascal, into asking for his father's help. Things don't go well for Pascal, leading to Victor's prompt disappearance.
  • World of Snark: Porvenir's population is made almost entirely from rugged men from all over the world, hiding there from something or running shady oil businesses, so being deadpan is the default form of all dialogue between them.


Example of: