Even if you haven’t seen Deliverance (and I urge you to rectify that ASAP if that’s the case) then you know OF it. There are at least two scenes so (in)famous that most people of my generation know of it or have even made reference to it at some point.
As the movie opens we get signposts in the first few minutes to what’s coming up in the traumatic journey ahead. Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty are the four city guys about to enjoy a wild weekend embarking on a river trip before the river is scheduled to disappear. Things could go just swimmingly for all concerned but we get hints of confrontation and trouble almost from the off. The environment is being raped, the city folk don’t really hold a high opinion of the “hillbillies” and vice versa (as Beatty’s character gently mocks one old fella he is told that he knows nothing) and even one great moment of camaraderie between a city gent and one of the locals ends with the city-dweller smiling while admitting that he’s lost. Indeed, Deliverance is one of those great movies that reveals a little bit more with every viewing.
This movie isn’t about standard thrills and “easy” scares. It’s an unsettling film that uses one or two key moments to unnerve you for the rest of the movie. It also takes the main characters and changes them in ways that you really don’t expect. Despite the extreme nature of the ordeal, Deliverance still feels like a very honest and unflinching look at a group of people doing what they have to do under extreme pressure.
The performances are perfect throughout. People remember the names of the stars but few remember the impact that each one makes during various points of the film. Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Jon Voight are as good as they’ve ever been but it’s unfair to review the film without remarking on how great it was for Burt Reynolds to take on his particular role and to not overshadow the group dynamic. Okay, he certainly rules over the men in the first half of the movie but the way in which he is moved into the background throughout is both well orchestrated and very impressive, considering what an alpha male the man has always been perceived to be.
The direction from John Boorman really sets everything up nicely for the cast and for the building tension and Boorman’s job was made easier by a great script from James Dickey (adapting his own novel). It’s not the most verbose movie you’ll see but it is a film in which almost every word of dialogue uttered and every exchange reveals something about the character involved.
Thought-provoking and thoughtful, Deliverance is a movie that takes you on that journey with the central characters and shows you everything around them, be it luminous and beautiful or squalid and ugly. AND it will even make you enjoy some banjo music for a while thanks to the superb soundtrack.
DIRECTOR: JOHN BOORMAN
WRITER: JAMES DICKEY
STARS: BURT REYNOLDS, JON VOIGHT, NED BEATTY, RONNY COX, ED RAMEY, BILLY REDDEN
RUNTIME: 110 MINS APPROX