Sunday, January 31, 2010

Deliverance (1972)

If getting your rocks off to Ned Beatty squealing like a pig isn't American, than nothing is.

After living in or near the deep south for most of my life, Deliverance managed to strike a few chords with me. I'm not saying that a good old boy made me squeal like a pig on a canoeing trip, but the film captures the atmosphere of the region really well. It also maintains an impressive sense of tension throughout, but all this tension and atmosphere seems wasted on a movie that really only persists because of a ten minute sequence and a song. Deliverance is a stone's throw from being an extremely potent movie, but it stutters in the important areas of character development and pacing.

When four friends, John Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, go on a canoeing trip in what can only be described as the boonies, they run into trouble when the are assaulted by some good old boys. After the kill one of them in self-defense, they are faced with a difficult choice; be honest and face the consequences or hide the body and try to escape alive. The film was successful, both financially and critically, and it managed to pick up three Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture. Deliverance is an unexpected darling as far as most people are concerned. The film doesn't have any of the obvious watermarks of a critic's favorite, but it's easy to see some of the things that contribute to that status if you are looking for them.

The best things about Deliverance seem to come organically from the film-making. The film is blessed with an iconic soundtrack, some magnificent cinematography and a knack for generating a really unpleasant, "something bad is going to happen" sensation in the pit of your stomach. This helps the film succeed on a base, instinctual level. You just know something bad is going to happen and that sense of dread makes the first half of the movie especially compelling. Best of all, none of these traits seem forced. Each one of these elements feels like it came out of the film organically and each one supports the others remarkably. All of this plays into the wonderful atmosphere of Deliverance. It's a shame that all this tension and atmosphere was so carelessly mismanaged.

You might be stewing in tension and dread, but it never really pays off in Deliverance. There is the famous scene where Beatty and Voight as assaulted, but after that, the film starts to trail off. Nothing else in the movie matches the intensity there and the rest of the movie seems like a rushed afterthought. Most of the interesting material that could be explored is breezed over. We don't spend enough time with all our characters after the assault and murder to see exactly how it's changed or effected them. What we get instead, is a mad dash to the finish that does everything it can to leave the audience in the dark. The same can be said about the characters themselves. We learn awfully little about our characters and how they know each other. While this is initially very effective, they seem so mismatched, it becomes an issue as the movie surges forward and we still know very little about the people we're watching.

Deliverance endures because it's nice to look at and a toothless hillbilly tells John Voight that he has a pretty mouth. It has other admirable traits, but most of them are lost in the frantic pace. It's fun to watch Burt Reynolds be a 70's sex icon an all, but nothing about that screams that Deliverance deserves to be called a classic. I'm not saying the movie is bad, I enjoyed it more than my review would suggest, but be aware that it's probably not going to blow your mind. See it for it's lasting impact on visual style and it's world renowned hillbilly rape scene.


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