In what could be a cliche horror/slasher film, Deliverance explores themes of civilization and ethical dilemmas. The scenes between the backwoods, redneck natives and the cultured, civilized explorers take on a unique significance because we're meant to question the characterizations with which we approach these people. Are the civilized really that civilized? Does one have to respond to violence with violence in a violent context?
Strong performances by Jon Voight, whose character acts as a kind of moral center to the film (the film is - in some ways - a battle for Ed's soul), and Burt Reynolds, the adaptable tough guy, carry the film.
Overall, this is a classic for good reason, a film that takes serious issues with the gravity they deserve.
Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it's turned into one huge lake, outdoor fanatic Lewis Medlock takes his friends on a river-rafting trip they'll never forget into the dangerous American back-country.
One of the most famous works made by John Boorman, Deliverance is also one of the most momentous movies shot in the seventies. Its reputation comes from the fact that the director chose to take the opposite view of how nature was commonly perceived in American cinema. Indeed, many films showed a positive view of it and showcased it as a happy refuge where man could find relief and strength from a stressful civilization. In a way, this is the goal that the four main protagonists in Boorman's film indirectly try to reach. They decide to go down the river in a canoe to go back to their roots and to take advantage of a rural place that is bound to be swallowed up by a dam. At first, Boorman seems to be on their side. The film depicts numerous shots of a gorgeous river and imposing landscapes. Details reinforced by a slow, contemplative rhythm and a discreet editing. Moreover, Drew (Ronny Cox) tries to communicate with a muted peasant through music.
But little by little, Boorman reveals to the audience that elements of these beautiful landscapes make nature dangerous and hostile to the four adventurers. One can note down that before the apparition of the two silly peasants, Lewis (Burt Reynolds) had animal instincts in him. After the killing of one of the two men, he chooses to bury the corpse and not to call the police. From this watershed onwards, Boorman manages to create an intense tension that won't subside. On the contrary, it will increase with the other misadventures endured by the four men. None of them will be spared and all of them will keep physical or moral scars from this sad trek. The message conveyed by the filmmaker is clear: man must accept society and his return to nature can only damage his personality. A must see film.
Mountain Man: What we, uh, "re-quire" is that you get your god-damn asses up in them woods.
I wouldn't call Deliverance a horror film, but it does have real-life horror in it. If I had went into this movie knowing nothing about it; it would have been a complete shock when we meet the infamous "mountain men." The set-up for it is great and they truly sell the fact that the movie is a buddy canoeing trip film. At the beginning, there is a great "Dueling Banjos" scene that fuels the music for the rest of the movie. We watch the friends bond for awhile and canoe successfully for a day. But the whole tone of the film changes in the blink of an eye. The rape scene is disturbing and scary like must true horror movies can't be. This is shit that can actually happen. It's not Jason running around, slicing people up, dying, coming back to life, and killing again. The performances by the 4 friends are great. Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox all played their roles to perfection. It's one of those movies that will stick with you long after you've watched it.
In another director's hands, James Dickey's novel about four wannabe "city boy" adventurers could have ended up as a very simple, nuts-and-bolts exploitation film: a clash of civilised and savages, townies versus hicks, and the last man standing wins. But in what remains his best film, John Boorman manages to take this limited narrative and turn it into both a frightening voyage of discovery and one of the best environmental films ever made.
Deliverance draws on a recurring theme in Boorman's work of man versus nature, or more precisely the unquantifiable power of the natural world compared to the humans who attempt to dominate it. In his later career, Boorman would make these kinds of points a lot more heavy-handedly: the sheer quantity of tree-hugging in The Emerald Forest makes Terrence Malick look like a gun-toting industrialist. Here, however, there is a very good balance between the film's political message and the drama of the characters through which such a message is communicated.
As the film begins, we are introduced to our four modern men - modern in the sense that they live over and above the landscape and are imposing their authority on it even by the act of going on the river. The local hicks warn the men that what they are doing is stupid, but they dismiss such comments as superstitious crazy talk and stick rigidly to their plans. The car journey to the river is intercut with scenes of bulldozers ferrying rock from a quarry and huge cliff walls being dynamited, as if every action of Man against his habitat is one of exploitation or destruction. They even invoke the great explorers of old having just safely barrelled through the rapids.
But although these men come from the same stock, we are slowly but surely introduced to little fissures in the group. Burt Reynolds' character seems to be more 'at one with nature' than the others, and feels genuinely sorry that the river will be flooded while the others are just there for the fun. Dru, played by Ronny Cox, is the most na´ve and childlike of the four, bringing his guitar everywhere and spending the opening act riding through rapids with no life jacket and a beaming grin. Ned Beatty is overly cautious, being the most out of shape and reluctant to be ordered around, and Jon Voight has some pretentions towards being like Reynolds but is ultimately out of his depth; he carries a bow, but gets the shakes whenever he tries to use it.
Aside from a direct warning against exploiting one's surroundings, there is a more subtle thread in Deliverance about the character of modern Man and how He is more or less incapable of returning to 'the old way of life'. All four men, even Reynolds, are at heart white-collar workers, who feel at home in their busy offices with paper and coffee, or in their large homes with loving wives. Their affection for nature is entirely playful, since none of them would choose to give up what they have to live like a hunter-gatherer. They enjoy pretending to be wild when in fact they are nothing of the sort, and as long as their journey is filled with beauty and adrenaline, their experience of 'nature' fits in with their worldview.
But, as the darker, less merciful side of nature begins to rear its ugly head, these men quickly become overwhelmed by their surroundings, and we understand just how little they really know. If Reynolds et al are an expression of Man's desire for dominance of nature, mitigated by a faux fondness of its beauty, then the hicks or in-breds are a manifestation of nature itself: uncompromising, ruthless, set in its ways and not so much of a pushover. The crucial mistake of the gang is not being among nature of itself: their mistake is assuming that they are in control.
The famous rape scene, in which Ned Beatty is made to "squeal like a pig", is an ironic role reversal based upon one of the film's opening lines. Over some long aerial shots of the river, Reynolds remarks that in building the dam, people are "raping" the river and the surrounding countryside - and here we have nature raping man, not in self-defence or out of vindictiveness, but because that's the way it has always been. Boorman shoots these sequences very sensitively; his camera does not revel in Beatty's humiliation, with a clever combination of wide shots and close-ups on his face doing more than enough to terrify us.
Had Boorman not set up the themes of the story, and brought them out of the woodwork so accessibly (no pun intended), scenes like this would appear gratuitous or exploitative. But just like the ending of The Wicker Man, the brutality of Deliverance is justified because it vividly conveys the themes and ideas of the film. Scenes like this demonstrate that, under the right circumstances, visceral, gut-wrenching horror can say as much about a subject as a dozen boring conversations. As with The Wicker Man or Alien after it, the violence in Deliverance instinctively shocks but remains with you until its symbolic significance becomes clear.
Those who are unconvinced by this need only look at a scene just before the rape sequence, in which Jon Voight is crouched behind a tree trying to shoot a deer. There is nothing tense or threatening about his situation, save for the small matter of finding breakfast. But even so, he hesitates, his hand shudders and the arrow flies off into the trees causing the deer to flee. The set-up is the same as before: Man assumes he is in control, attempts to enact that control, and finds that he can't.
Deliverance is also a very well-directed piece of work and a lesson in great low-budget filmmaking. Although the film looks rough and ready in places, it also has a great drained-out beauty to it. This is achieved through Vilmos Zsigmund's trademark use of 'pre-fogging', in which the celluloid is partially exposed before shooting to create a muted colour palette. Because the budget was so low (around $2m), all the stunts are real, right down to Ronny Cox tumbling head-first into the rapids. Boorman's camerawork is inventive and precise, following the men above and below the water as they struggle to the surface and fight for breath.
Deliverance is also notable for its limited use of music. Aside from its duelling banjos at the start, there isn't really any soundtrack to speak of. The film is comparable with Get Carter, which introduces its jazzy theme in the opening minutes and then fleetingly revisits it at key moments to add tension or terror. The little banjo touches as the survivors float around the river are few and far between, and every time they pop up our eyes dart frantically to the trees, searching for further enemies who might spring out at any moment. Like any great Western, Deliverance knows how to use the stillness of the landscape to create tension, and its use of background noise like water rushing or birdsong will shred your nerves to breaking point.
Deliverance is a great film with exceptional performances from its cast: Voight is every bit as good as he was in Midnight Cowboy, and Reynolds has never better, carrying himself in several scenes like a young Marlon Brando. It also remains Boorman's best film, being more substantial than Point Blank or Hell in the Pacific but also much less indulgent than his later works. Like Get Carter it isn't quite flawless, as things take a while to get going and still feels rough around the edges. But that's a small price to pay for a top-notch thriller which is intensely terrifying and terrifyingly intense.
Deliverance has one of my favorite tag lines of all time: This was the weekend they didn't play golf. What they actually did this weekend was go on a canoe trip in an undisturbed stretch of river- undisturbed for the time being because the power company is about to dam it up and create a huge lake for hydroelectric power. This is their last chance to ride real nature as they go into the mountains of Georgia amongst people who see indoor plumbing as a myth akin to man walking on the moon.
The friends consist of Lewis (Burt Reynolds) who us your typical mans man, declaring that he doesn't carry insurance because there's no risk. Most of the first half of the film is Lewis lamenting about the system and its impending failure, causing him to learn how to survive. Ed (Jon Voight) is a more laid back personality. He knows his ways around the woods but isn't hell bent on being the alpha male of the group. Ronny Cox plays Drew, a guitar playing all around nice guy who has deep moral beliefs. You can't not like the guy. Finally there's Bobby (Ned Beatty), the insurance agent that's totally out of his element in a canoe in the middle of nowhere.
Throughout the film there are sprinkled various hillbilly characters, many of which were played by the actual people in the area. This is an area that's been barely disturbed since Sherman went home, other than automobiles. It's isolated as hell to the extent that the group could have traveled to Mars. That's the first step to their downfall. As the film progressed the dread builds until Ed has to finally become an animal and kill or be killed. They realize what they've gotten into only when it's too late.
The main cast is excellent with the real stand out being Burt Reynolds in his first major role. This is probably the best role of his career as he plays Lewis to be almost Moses-like, sending down his parables on survival and life. Reynolds was born for the role of Lewis. Beatty also gives a great performance as Bobby, not because of the "pig" scene, but because of after the "pig" scene. You feel for him more in the aftermath than you do when it's happening which stands as a real testament to his portrayal.
Directed by John Boorman, Deliverance has an almost down home feel when being shot. What's fascinating about the film is who is the real villain in this film. The mountain men? The river? The boys themselves? It's hard to establish, which makes the film so damn good. Deliverance is one of those films where one piece overshadows the entire film. The title is a joke usually associated with being in the middle of nowhere amongst people without iPods and cell phones. Deliverance delivers a heart pounding weekend that slowly flows into hell.
36 years after its release and the film has not lost any of its appeal.
The performances in the movie are mesmerizing, the cast is full of talent. Ned Beatty, in his first role, does a very memorable performance as the ill fated Bobby. His facial expressions, his manners, pretty much sums up his feelings. Beatty's performace is acting at its finest.
"Now let's you just drop them pants."
The film is a perfect example on how a film doesn't need CGI, fast editing or any familiar methods of today. It relies more on long shots and a beautiful score. It's intense from start to finish and a perfect, talented cast give us career best performances.
"Deliverance" is a scary and effective film. The characters are put into a situation that no one would ever want to experience. A true masterpiece of filmmaking.