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January 17, 2009

Sorcerer (Classic Film Pick)

Sorcerer William Friedkin leveraged the enormous amount of influence he accrued with success of "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist" to live out a fantasy of remaking Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1955 thriller "Le Salaire de la Peur" ("Wages of Fear"). Infamous battles with Friedkin's production companies (Paramount and Universal) over casting and budgetary concerns were exacerbated by costly set disasters involving a rope suspension bridge used in one of the film's most suspenseful sequences. The director's decision to use an electronic music score by Tangerine Dream adds considerably creating to a volatile vibe that compliments screenwriter Walon Green's prescient adaptation of Geroges Arnaud's novel. During its finely crafted first act, Friedkin masterfully sets up the back-stories of four criminals from around the globe who end up in the same backwater town in Venezuela where an oil fire 200 miles away, gives the men an opportunity to make a sizable sum of money if they can successfully deliver several cases of nitro-sweating dynamite. In spite of Friedkin's public grousing about Roy Scheider being the wrong actor for the leading man role of Jackie Scanlon--the director originally wanted to cast Steve McQueen--Scheider delivers with a gutsy performance that is every bit as solid as his work on "Jaws." "Sorcerer" had the misfortune of being released at the same time as "Star Wars," and as such flopped at the box office in the blink of an eye. It's rare that a remake lives up to the original upon which it was based, but "Sorcerer" is that exceptional movie.

Rated PG. 121 mins. (A) (Five Stars)

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