Deliverance (1972)
Deliverance (1972)

Genre: Adventure and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: August 18th, 1972 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Boorman Actors: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, Billy Redden, Bill McKinney, Herbert Coward

 


 

“C

ity boys” Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Ed (Jon Voight), Robert (Ned Beatty), and Drew (Ronny Cox) discuss the building of a dam designed to flood the whole valley, which will destroy the river (commenting on man’s destruction of the environment). “We’re gonna rape this whole landscape.” As a last chance to see the untamed wilderness, they drive from Atlanta into the deep, deep woods, with canoes strapped to their trucks. It’s a rugged weekend getaway, which should prove to be quite the adventure.

“You don’t know nothin’.” As the foursome descends into the heavily forested back country, they encounter only a handful of people, all of whom seem to be of poor genetics – sporting distorted visages with deformed eyes and terribly weathered skin. One of the first is a boy of an indistinguishable age, who engages in a banjo duel with Drew – one of the most famous sequences in the film, and one that establishes not only a musical motif, but also a sense of unease. Before they begin the actual river voyage (shot on location at the Chattooga River), they hire the Griner Brothers to drive two of their vehicles to the finish point in Aintry County, so that they’ll have transportation back to the start. But even this simple act is off to a shaky start, as monetary negotiations fail to transpire smoothly. “Don’t play games with these people.”

With a screenplay written by renowned poet and author James Dickey (who has a small cameo as a sheriff), based on his best-selling novel, the foreshadowing kicks in immediately, featuring some bad omens and unfriendly interactions. The group makes it to the river soon enough, paddling across relatively tame waters, though only Lewis seems to have the nerves and independence for wandering into such a desolate area; the others want to turn back at the littlest inconvenience, but Lewis pushes them onward. At least the scenery is quite beautiful.

“That’s the second best sensation I ever felt!” Choppier stretches provide light thrills as they navigate between sudden drops, sharp rocks, and felled trees; but amid the rollercoaster excitement, there’s always the nagging feeling that disaster might strike at any moment. “I don’t know. I thought I heard something.” It doesn’t help that Lewis speaks of the survival of the fittest and the problems of the “system” (of modern civilization and government) versus the freedoms of nonexistent supervision in nature, untarnished by human encroachment. Of course, lawlessness has its downfalls. Hunting and killing animals is also brought up, calling into question the mindset necessary to take a life, which becomes more prominent as the film progresses.

A chance encounter just off the river’s course, involving two mountain men and sexual assault, drastically shifts things into the realm of realistic horror. This sequence, which dominates the picture with its severity and shockingness, tends to overshadow the steadily amplifying, potent themes – from characters finding themselves wildly in over their heads, to the fear and panic of momentary oppression or pressure, to the breakdown of civility and teamwork in harrowing circumstances. Were it not for this iconic, unforgettable occurrence, “Deliverance” would certainly have a more difficult time standing out from the man-vs-nature productions of the era. Nevertheless, it kicks off a series of nerve-jangling events, forcing the characters to adapt and persevere in increasingly hazardous scenarios – made more treacherous by alternating leadership partway through (the strongest of them will be reduced to weakness, while courage must be summoned by one of the feeblest).

Additional accidents and injuries arise, always maintaining an urgency and a realism; even during brief heroics, there’s a discernible focus on unpreparedness and spontaneity and tattered psyches. But surges of adrenaline tend to cure – if only for a minute – the condition of human frailty. Not so much a cautionary tale as one of uncommon doggedness, the finale carries on a touch too long, allowing audiences to wind down from the nonstop thrills with fleeting feelings of safety – despite the tension from suspicious authorities. Still, its inclusion presents yet another component of authenticity, suggesting that self-defense isn’t a foolproof excuse for anything. The parting shot is also a misstep, resorting to flimsy scare tactics, but “Deliverance” is assuredly a memorable endeavor.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10