Sorcerer is in my opinion William Friedkin’s greatest work, I am a big admired of his other films but I always seem to go back to Sorcerer, I don’t know why exactly the film just seems to click with me.
The characters in the film are not your typical movie characters instead they have flaws. They are selfish, violent, dishonest, bitter, unhappy and by the end of the film completely broken.
“I don’t believe in heroes, I wanted no likeable characters”
“These people are not necessarily bad or evil, they are flawed” said Friedkin on his characters.
Perhaps this is why I adore Sorcerer, the film breaks so many rules typically used in other movies, I could never predict which direction the film was going in and everything starts to unravel gradually. Sorcerer was made by a director and production crew at the top of their game and the result is truly remarkable.
Sorcerer was originally released in June 1977 and the film had a lot of expectations to live up to, mostly because of Friedkin’s previous two films. The French Connection (1971) was released to critical and commercial acclaim as well as bagging Friedkin an Academy Award for Best Director and Gene Hackman the Oscar for Best Actor, the film was awarded 5 Academy Awards with 8 nominations overall.
In 2005 the film was inducted into the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as culturally and historically significant.
Only 2 years had passed and Friedkin was at it again, The Exorcist (1973) is iconic in pop culture and is considered to be one of the best horror films ever made. The film received 10 Academy Award nominations winning two (Best Sound and Adapted Screenplay) and Friedkin earned a second Oscar nod.
The Exorcist is the first horror film in history to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and over the years it has gone on to gross over 400 millions dollars.
“I thought anything I did at that point would work” said Friedkin.
“I believed the audience would follow me wherever I took them”
Massive things were expected of Sorcerer and the film was predicted to match the success of Friedkin’s two previous films. Sorcerer’s budget was initially 12-14 million dollars which was bumped up to around 21 million with some additional costs, the film was co-financed by Universal and Paramount Pictures.
“Budget was no concern”
“They didn’t give a shit frankly”
“At that time they would have financed my nephews bar mitzvah” recalled Friedkin.
Sorcerer was critically panned on release and only grossed 5.9 million dollars at the US box office and 9 million dollars worldwide.
“The film was universally declaimed, I felt terrible”
The film derailed Friedkin’s career massively and Universal Studios added to his woes by ending their contract with the director.
“Because the failure of it was so deep and profound that it could never be healed, it doesn’t change the fact that when I made this film it was completely rejected”
Let’s talk about the story.
The film opens in Vera Cruz Mexico and the camera pulls back to reveal a man overlooking the city from his hotel balcony. He tries to light a cigarette but he is interrupted by a mysterious figure wearing a brown hat and jet black glasses.
This is Nilo (Francisco Rabal) a cold-blooded hitman and one of four main characters in this film. Nilo pulls out a silenced pistol and executes the man, he goes down the elevator and casually leaves the hotel.
Next we switch to the crowded streets of Jerusalem and we see a suspicious looking guy walking quickly whilst carrying a pair of shoes in his hands, this is Kassem our second character. We see Kassem meet up with one of his friends, the two of them walk and talk with each other before stopping to drop off a package.
They catch a ride on a civilian bus and leave the package laying there in the streets, the bus drives away from the scene. Out of nowhere a massive explosion erupts shattering everything in its wake. Next we see Kassem and his friends running back to what looks to be their secret hideout and they are planning their escape. The military is out in full force and it is not long before they are found.
They storm the hideout and quickly dispatch of the group, two members are killed and the other is apprehended, Kassem is the only one who escapes and he looks on helplessly as his friend is taken away by the military.
Next we see a long street with two schools girls walking towards the camera, we are informed this is Paris and the camera pans across to a classy apartment building. We see a man looking out one of the windows.
He looks concerned and doesn’t now what to do with himself, he tries to relax in his chair and read through a newspaper but nothing seems to ease his mind.
He goes into his bedroom and we see his wife laying on their bed writing a poem, he asks her to read the poem to him whilst he prepares himself in the bathroom. He notices a gold coloured box placed next to the sink, he opens it up and a silver watch is inside with a message of love fixed into the back. It is commemorating the couples tenth wedding anniversary, this won’t be the last time we see this watch.
Victor (Bruno Cremer) is a successful banker who has a major problem, he is being accused of fraud. Victor has a meeting at the Paris Stock Exchange and he is given 24 hours to pay off his debts. Victor meets with his business partner Pascal and desperately begs him to ask and persuade his father for help paying the money.
Later on we see Victor having lunch at a fine dining restaurant with his wife and her friend, a waiter approaches Victor and informs him someone is waiting outside to see him. It is Pascal and the news isn’t good, Victor begs Pascal to try again and he then begins to walk away thinking the conversation is over. We hear a loud bang and so does Victor, he jolts around in shock and Pascal is lying still in his car.
Victor rushes to Pascal’s car and we see Pascal covered in blood with a gun in his hand, Victor then sneaks back into the restaurant and asks a waiter to tell his wife he had to leave on business. Victor gets out of the restaurant and runs down the street out of sight.
The final character we are introduced to is Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider) and he is the driver for a local mob in Elizabeth, New Jersey. We see him drive up and enter a local church with 3 other gang members, they walk in quietly and sneak into the backroom. We see a group of priests sitting around a table counting a huge load of cash, the gang burst in and hold up the priests.
One of the Jackie’s associates ends up shooting one of the priests who tries to escape, this proves to be a major error. Next we see Jackie driving the gang away from the scene and they look to be in the clear. However a petty argument breaks out over the money and Jackie intervenes taking his eye of the road.
The car ends up crashing into a lorry and everyone but Jackie is killed, he does manage to limp away undetected. Later on he meets with his friend Vinnie who informs Jackie he is in a lot of trouble.
The priest who got shot was the brother of an important mob boss and he is actively hunting down Jackie. Vinnie presents him with a way out and Jackie has no option.
According to Friedkin the main theme of the story was fate and how unpredictable life can be.
“The story to me was about the mystery of fate, the fact someone could cross the road and die”
“We have nothing to say about how we come into this world and nothing to say about how we leave it, that is the underlying theme of Sorcerer”
All four of these characters find themselves stuck in an isolated town named Polvenir in South America. The village is filthy, rundown and harsh, there is no hope for the locals and no hope for our characters.
Nilo, Kassem, Victor and Jackie are working for an American owned oil company and their salary is pitiful, they are also living in disgusting conditions with little to no food to speak of. They desperately want to escape this nightmare but it seems unlikely, however a potential opportunity arises but it is extremely dangerous.
“There is no salvation”
“The film is relentless in its reality” said Friedkin.
I adore Tangerine Dream’s score, the music has a unique quality to it that adds to the film’s depressing tone. The score was actually completed before the film started principal photography, William Friedkin actually received a copy of the music on a videotape while he was working on the film’s set, he also shares my love for this wonderful score.
“It was tough and mean and rhythmic with no sentimentality, I loved it”
Sorcerer has a top-notch cast of actors and this quality shows in the film, at the time Francisco Rabal was a huge star in Italy, France and Spain but was virtually unknown in the United States. He plays Nilo as a charismatic and unpredictable man who would kill anyone to get what he wants.
Amidou was a Moroccan born actor who learnt his craft in Paris, he was a big star in France but once again was unknown in America. Kassem is by far the most unstable character in the film, on the surface he appears calm and collected but soon enough we learn this isn’t the case. He is however a very smart guy and he comes in handy later in the film.
Bruno Cremer had a lengthy acting career in film and theatre and his part in Sorcerer was his first English-speaking role. Victor is my favourite character in this film, he is the voice of the reason in the group and no one questions his decisions.
He accepts the terrible situation he is in and just gets on with it, I respect that. One of my favourite scenes is where he talks to Jackie for the first time and the conversation that follows.
Roy Schneider is by far the most recognisable actor in this film through his well-known roles in Jaws and of course The French Connection. Schneider was not the first choice for the part instead Steve McQueen was almost cast, however complications with his new wife at the time Ali Macgraw lead to McQueen withdrawing from the project.
“Schneider was available and Universal loved him” was Friedkin’s reasoning behind his casting.
To me Jackie is the most conflicted character in the film, he is a hot head who never gives up, but I can’t figure out what motivates him. He seems to have no family members to speak of, no wife or children, he just seems to live an aimless life who no goals or ambitions. It’s sad really.
I absolutely, positively and wholeheartedly adore Sorcerer (if you haven’t guessed already), it is one of my favourite films and in recent years the film has received the love and praise it rightfully deserves.
“Films that draw from an audience endless emotions such as fear, joy, sorrow, tears, laughter, those things are in another realm”
Great films can suck you into another realm and make you feel involved in what is happening on the screen. Every time I watch Sorcerer I get transported into a another world that is harsh and unfair but it endlessly compelling to observe.
“I basically believe that a film operates like a dream, a film is a dream, the people are not real and its all projected. Its like visions, nightmares you have in your dreams”
I would like to credit Wikipedia, IMDB and Trailers from Hell for the information, images and videos provided in this blog, they have been linked below.