Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
USA, 1972. Warner Bros., Elmer Enterprises. Screenplay by James Dickey, based on his novel. Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. Produced by John Boorman. Music by Michael Addiss. Production Design by Fred Harpman. Costume Design by Bucky Rous. Film Editing by Tom Priestley. Academy Awards 1972. Golden Globe Awards 1972.
The movie that still has heterosexual men shaking in their boots every time they hear a banjo being tuned. Four friends escape the city and go on a canoeing trip down a wild river in hillbilly country, expecting to commune quite peacefully with the great outdoors but encountering a harsh wilderness full of dangers from Mother Nature and from humanity itself instead. The most impressive aspect of John Boorman’s beautifully directed drama is how smooth and efficient it is, setting up the voyage quickly and then going from one conflict to the next until the terrifying “squeal like a pig” conflict before finally reaching its end. It is exactly as long as it needs to be and photographed gorgeously, allowing the natural environment to be as vivid a character in the story as the villainous mountain folk or the desperate men looking to survive them. The theme of the modern individual thinking they can enjoy nature on their own terms and bend its unpredictable edges to their own sense of sport and play is given subtle enough treatment that it resonates without feeling preachy or trite. Burt Reynolds deservedly became a star for looking so such in his rubber vest, but the standout performance is Jon Voight as the mild-mannered symbol of the American bourgeoisie whose feral core is awakened by his experiences.