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Film / Sorcerer

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Four wanted men from around the world escape to the oil fields of the South American jungle, evading pursuit by the authorities for their various crimes. While in hiding, they are chosen to take on a job that could result in their gruesome deaths or a handsome reward: delivering large quantities of nitroglycerin to an out-of-control oil well 218 miles to the north. The fugitives' journey becomes a tale of survival, daring the odds and overcoming personal differences while driving two trucks built from mothballed rustbuckets which have 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 an 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 (to which its theatrical trailer was attached in its initial release), 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.

For the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, see The Sorcerer.

Tropes appearing in this film:

  • Ace Custom: Both trucks are assembled specifically for the journey and out of parts scavenged from all the vehicles standing in the company's yard, making them suitable for their job despite starting out as little more than two sturdy chassis.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Every character and location has a different name than their book counterpart. Even the village is renamed.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: The film mix-and-matches traits and backstories of the characters' from Wages of Fear. Jackie adopts Jo's gangsterdom but is otherwise the equivalent character to Mario (a sarcastic playboy with a love interest and the sole survivor), Manzon has Mario's lavish former life and French nationality but is less outspoken like Bimba, and Nilo has Bimba's enigmatic and intense personality but fills Jo's role as a replacement driver.
  • Adventurer Outfit: When starting their voyage, Victor is wearing one, consisting of a 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.
  • Anti-Hero: All four of our main characters are criminals.
  • 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.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: Implied Trope; "Marquez" and "Carlos" the bartender are elderly Germans in a South American town where every single foreigner has a Dark and Troubled Past. Jackie claims Carlos was a former Reichsmarschall, though it's in the middle of a series of tongue-in-cheek comments the town's denizens so we have no idea if it's true or just a joke based on the trope.
  • A-Team Montage: One that predates The A-Team by years. 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.
  • 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 doesn't pass the test, so he kills "Marquez" instead and shows up to replace him.
  • Big Badass Rig: Both Sorcerer and Lazaro are big, intimidating delivery trucks hauling nitroglycerin.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: After Jackie Scanlon delivers the nitro to the drilling site, Lartigue and Co. bring him back to Porvenir for a paycheck, a drink and a measure of peace for the first time. Unbeknownst to him, Spider, his former friend, leads a group of mobsters (whom 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:
    • We get a close-up on a shovel being attached to one of the trucks. It suddenly becomes important in the third act.
    • Nilo brings a revolver on the trip. It becomes necessary in the third act.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Kassem is a terrorist bomber who ultimately makes good use of his explosive skills when there's an obstacle in the road.
  • Company Town: A very dark version. Porvenir is a village entirely taken over by Lartigue and Co. oil 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: "Marquez" is an old "veteran" of being trapped in the village and has a steady, inter-generational friendship with Kassem.
  • Corrupt Cop: The two guards that caught Jack let him loose... but only so they can collect a racket in the 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 permanently 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 as though it's 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 .
    • In the prologue, Elizabeth, New Jersey. The place is a decrepit industrial town ala The Deer Hunter. Jackie and his gang show up at a church to bust a racket by a bunch of corrupt priests during a wedding. There's even a shot of the bride sporting purple shiners, possibly from the night before.
  • 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 the roadless jungle.
  • Death by Adaptation: In Wages of Fear, the German driver Smerloff simply fails to show up to work, so that Jo replaces him. The other drivers suspect Jo may have intimidated Smerloff into leaving, but this is never confirmed. His equivalent character Marquez is straight-up murdered by Jo-equivalent Nilo, to similar effect.
  • Demolitions Expert: Kassem is introduced with a group of Middle Eastern Terrorists who bomb Jerusalem. Sure enough, he's the most skilled with explosives of the four drivers.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Over half the film's length is dedicated to this trope, taking 30 minutes and four different storylines just to reach Porvenir. The Nitro Express journey doesn't start until the 65-minute mark.
  • Description Cut: A helicopter pilot says you'd need "suicide jockeys" to sign up for the Nitro Express. We then cut to a poor man hacking up a lung in Porvenir, with Nilo standing nearby. Sure enough, the whole town volunteers.
  • 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 after taking a round into the engine block. 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 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.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: 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.
  • 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 a 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 an 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 a Banana Republic. Unlike typical remakes, 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 raising the stakes much higher than the original ever could or dared.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We see four vignettes in the opening - they cover Nilo, Kassem, Victor and Jackie. There is none for "Marquez", so you know he won't be driving long before he even is introduced into the story.
  • 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 nitroglycerin, making it highly volatile, as it's basically liquid nitroglycerin in parchment bags and with dry dynamite sticks floating in it.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: When the guerrillas 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 a few steps causes Jackie to end up chin-deep in marsh and unable to continue any further.
  • Hyperlink Story: The film opens with four featurettes, each unrelated with another, disclosing details about the main characters and their backgrounds. They only start to slowly connect when the plot moves to Porvenir.
  • Indy Ploy: Jackie and Nilo start improvising when they are stopped by the guerrillas, yet they manage to escape the situation without exchanging even a word.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted with Nilo, who took one in the guts and is dying for a few hours. And justified with the guerrillas he gunned down, as they all get nice, clean headshots.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: When one of the guerrillas assures Jackie he has nothing to be afraid of, he instantly adds in Spanish to bring the other driver out, so they can shoot them both on the road.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: "Marquez" and Kassem were friends before the group assembled for the transport. This makes Kassem's violent reaction to "Marquez"'s murder even more poignant.
  • Irish Mob: Jackie's a member. In the beginning of the film, he and his fellow Irish mobsters bungle an attempt to rob a church racket, forcing him to go on the run.
  • 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 Kassem by accident, making it all that more jumpy due to already high tension.
  • Legion of Lost Souls: Victor's wife is writing a novel about a Legionnaire, which foreshadows the very Foreign Legion-y nature of the oilworks in Porvenir and the ragtag bunch of international rejects that make up the film's protagonists.
  • 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 the early 50s, all the equipment was brand new and just brought on site by Americans for their big oil 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: The film is not about an actual sorcerer. It's the name written on one of the two trucks, and not even the truck that survives. The camera never focuses on the name, and you might not even notice it if you don't know to look for it. Friedkin insisted on the name. It's supposed to indicate fate, which is intended as a central theme. It's also a reference to The Exorcist and inspired by a Miles Davis album of the same name.
  • 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 knows only a few Spanish words while his papers state he's a native resident.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Porvenir is essentially a place only marginally better than death; the main characters' backstories each highlight how death was their only alternative to going there, so even being there reflects a determination to survive at any cost.
  • 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.
  • Product Placement: Coco-Cola pops up a few times in Porvenir. Several characters are seen drinking Coca-Cola bottles. One police man opens the bottle with his pistol. Jack also stares at the ass of a woman in a Coca-Cola poster at the local bar.
  • Professional Killer: Nilo is implied to be a hitman for hire.
  • Prolonged Prologue: The film takes over half its run time to actually get to the core story element of truck drivers hauling nitroglycerin. The characters are established through a sequence of seemingly unconnected vignettes that take half an hour, until they all arrive in the same place. The nitroglycerin isn't introduced until 50 minutes into the film, and the expedition doesn't start until 65 minutes in, out of a two-hour film.
  • 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 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 it 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, all 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 Jack 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.
  • Running Gag: Jack is really horny. When he arrives at Porvenir, he stares at the painted ass of a woman in a Coca-Cola ad. He occasionally glances sidelong at a washer woman in town. When driving the last leg of the expedition, he talks about prostitutes with Nilo. When he finally gets his money, he asks the washer woman to dance.
  • 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: 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 guerrillas by repetitively bashing him with a shovel.
  • Sole Survivor: Kassem and Jackie in the prologue. Only Jackie does this twice. Yet, as far as the closing seconds of the film is concerned, maybe not.
  • 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 improper 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 Scanlon and Nilo, as Jackie is very much aware Nilo killed "Marquez", but still needs someone as a spare driver.
    Scanlon: 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!
  • Vehicle Title: Sorcerer is the name given to one of the trucks, although you'd have to be paying close attention to even notice it. Ironically, the name of the other truck, Lazaro, is much easier to notice.
  • Visual Title Drop: An infamously ineffective one. The truck Victor and Kassem use is called Sorcerer. The name is seen in only two brief takes. The other truck's name, Lazaro, is much easier to see throughout the film.
  • 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.