Deliverance is one of the seminal films of the 70’s – though its influence seems mostly on the horror genre. It’s hard to imagine films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Wrong Turn without it. Four friends, played by Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds and Ronny Cox, head to a neighborhood in the south that’s about to be flooded. What they experience is something terrible. Directed by John Boorman, it’s a masterpiece of the tensions of masculinity. Warner Brother has put the film out on Blu-ray for its 40th anniversary, and our review of the Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The group are mostly city-folk, though Reynolds is the faux adventurer with a taste of the “true experience” of riding the rapids, and the man driving their trip. Voight is the everyman of the group, Beatty the least interested in the whole nature thing – partly comic relief – while Cox is a banjo player and the most sensitive.
As the men head down the river, they make an unscheduled stop where Voight and Beatty are assaulted by two men with about as many teeth between them. The scene brought the phrase “You’ve sure got a pretty mouth” into the cultural phrasebook, as it did “squeal like a pig.” After this encounter, the men are horrified to their very core, and when they make their way down the river, it seems they may have been followed. Or not.
What’s fascinating about this film is how little editorializing goes on. As directed by John Boorman, the film is about the experience, the story, it lets the viewer sort out the guilt and the truth of what the men went through. It is very much of its period, which is exemplified by how there’s no green screen in the film. We see the four leads going down rapids, and though there are some wide shots (likely to use stunt people), this is a film made in its setting.
And though Voight and Beatty become passive almost too quickly in the film’s most famous sequence, it’s a powerful and painful scene to watch. But the film isn’t stopped cold by it (sometimes sequences like that can leave an audience out of the picture), as it re-engages when they are rescued. It’s a brilliant choice that Reynolds’s character seems to have achieved his mostly manly moment in killing a man.
And then there’s Voight’s retribution, which is brilliant, though slightly hurt by the use of day-for-night photography that looks it. Watching the film for the umpteenth time, the Blu-ray really points out that the man on the hill is wearing a wedding ring.
It’s a strong film, from one of the best eras of cinema. But it is not a transcendent piece of art. It simply is. And being an experience is enough to make quite an impression. And not just the Dueling Banjos theme.
Warner brothers presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio surround track. The transfer makes the film look of period, but it’s clean. Most of the supplements are recycled, there’s a four part hour long documentary that features the four leads and Boorman talking about the film from Laurent Bouzereau that’s fine, if a bit dullish. Also from the DVD release is a period nine minute behind the scenes piece, the theatrical trailer and a commentary by Boorman. New for this set is “Deliverance: The Cast Remembers” (30 min.) which has overlap with the previous documentary, but also gets the four men in the same room together to talk about the making of the film. They suggests that they’ve all remained friends, and you believe it when you see them together. The disc comes in Book form, so there’s a booklet that comes with.