Southern Comfort Reviews
Set in the damp, eerie Louisiana swaps and backwaters, Southern Comfort follows a small squad of National Guardsmen in 1973, who, while out on a rather mundane patrol (and perhaps hook up with some ladies while their at it), stumble across some canoes owned by a group of Cajun trappers. Acting out of selfishness, the squad takes three of the four canoes, much to the Cajun's ire. Things quickly escalte when the Cajuns begin to harass the troopers, until, in response to a trigger happy trooper's firing of blanks to scare the Cajuns away, the troops' squad leader (played by Peter Coyote), ends up dead, shot by the Cajuns. Now without their leader, the squad find themselves way over their heads, and the Cajuns dead set on hunting each and every one of them down.
This simple "Hunter Becomes Hunted" set up is directed with confidence by Hill, who uses the naturally eerie and alien terrain of the swampland to his advantage. His direction is stark and very matter of fact, observing the unit as the paranoia and lack of a true leader steadily causes the group to fall apart at the seams, with members being killed off one by one in a brutal domino effect. Often, the killings are brutal, yet lacking in gore. Instead, the sheer matter-of-factness of the deaths helps make them effective, and when coupled with Hill's trademark slow-motion photography enables the audience to soak in the impact and visceral power of a gunshot to the head.
The acting is strong throughout, with the ever badass Powers Boothe, and the ever cool Keith Carradine being the two most likable and level headed members of the squad. Boothe, as always, carries himself with a palpable sense of ominousness and power, his dark cynicism playing wonderfully off Carradine's casual self confidence. While nobody here is exactly a fine upstanding citizen (after all, the only reason they got into this mess is because they stole canoes for selfish reasons), Carradine and Boothe remain likable. The rest of the cast is good as well, filling their simplistic archetypes very well, and nobody's showboating.
Ry Cooder's score, a subtly creepy mix of bluesy guitar riffs and eerie percussion, is very effective at setting the mood, and it keeps itself understated and unobtrusive. It really helps give the film a lot of it's aesthetic and aura.
Now, it must be said that, in comparison to The Warriors, this film isn't quite as tight. The pacing is looser, and since the soldiers more or less got themselves into the situation, it can be a bit harder to find a person to root for. But, in a way, that's a strength for the film. Walter Hill himself stated he didn't want to the morality to be as clear cut as a film of this nature typically is, and one can easily see this film being a commentary on how people's arrogance and selfishness can lead to their own destruction. And since it's story is so stripped down, it carries almost a legendary, folktale like quality. It can easily be imagined in any number environments, with any number of kinds of protagonists, and work just as well.
All in all, it's an understated, yet effective film, and also one that is entertaining. It might not be the wild, over the top neo-noir of The Warriors, but it's still a film worth seeking out.
4 out of 5 stars.
The movie is very tense, especially the ending. I like all the confusion, like with the scene where they're hanging the dead pigs. If you watch the movie you'll know what I mean. They did a good job making the redneck town scary because you don't know if they're with us or against us. Are the men paranoid or did Tobe Hooper just take over as director?
The whole movie is obviously allegory for the Vietnam War. If that was truly their intention they did a great job. This is my favorite movie in the category of "war film that's not really a war film."