Director: John Boorman
Cast: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
Plot: Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it's turned into one huge lake, outdoor fanatic Lewis Medlock takes his friends on a river-rafting trip they'll never forget into the dangerous American back-country.
Genre: Adventure / Drama / Thriller
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing
Rating: M18 for mature themes and violence.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“Don't ever do nothin' like this again. Don't come back up here.”
When I was about twelve, I saw a movie called The River Wild (1994) on HBO. I remembered it starred Kevin Bacon as an armed killer and Meryl Streep as a rafting expert of incredible courage. With most of the film set on a fast-flowing river, it was a suspenseful ride through the rapids, even if in retrospect the merits of the film weren’t particularly stellar.
Tracing back to two decades earlier, we recall a similar river-rafting film titled Deliverance, perhaps for the wrong reason. Often a staple in lists of controversial films, John Boorman's work is best known, albeit infamously, for its male rape scene in which the victim was asked to squeal like a pig.
I thought pigs oink, but anyway, Boorman's muscular film till this day continues to provoke with its depiction of violence and psychological trauma, all this to the white-knuckle tune of an adventure film not for kids.
Deliverance stars Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox as the quartet going on a river-rafting trip down the Cahulawassee River before it turns into a huge lake to facilitate urban development. It is a trip that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Shot by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977; The Deer Hunter, 1978), Deliverance puts us right into the thick of action as the actors brave the dangerous rapids, and in one nail-biting sequence, Voight climbs a steep cliff (for real) to counter an armed hillbilly.
The supreme camerawork, so steady and assured despite the bobbling river, draws us into Man’s physical encounter with nature, and in turn gives us an immediacy that illuminates the film’s key theme – the force of nature v. the fury of Man. But the question is: who is more cruel?
As derogatory as the term ‘hillbilly’ may imply, Deliverance reinforces the troubling notion that is the poor, uncivilized and violent White… who is capable of manslaughter and rape. From the perspective of the hillbilly, these rafters are trespassing nature, are the very representation of the urban dweller seeking refuge in the wilderness, and if nothing else, they do not belong, neither should they exist.
Boorman sets all these themes up, drawing a parallel with Man’s reformation of nature in the name of development. In other words, the mutual raping between man and nature, quite simply the essence of James Dickey’s screenplay based on his novel of the same name, is both a cause and consequence.
Deliverance is far from a masterpiece, but it is as bold a work as any from the early 1970s New Hollywood period, no less from someone who has won Best Director twice at Cannes.
Verdict: Muscular, bold, and suspenseful, this ride through the rapids mostly thrills.
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