Sorcerer (1977) has absolutely nothing to do with magic or sorcerers. Four men have come to a wretched South American hellhole. Most of the work here for an oil company but these men are here because they’re on the run. A terrorist, an assassin, a gangster, and a banker. They’ve all left behind–even if indirectly–death.
The oil well blows up. The oil company needs it put out and the only way to do that is blow it up again. The only dynamite available has been sitting in a hut in the jungle for over a year and the nitroglycerin is leaking out, leaving it highly unstable. The four protagonists take the job of transporting the nitro over two hundred miles.
What follows is an edge of your seat, nail biting thriller. Four men against the road, the jungle, the elements, and a few other men. You might expect that the main characters would come more into conflict with each other–especially when the assassin’s motivations for being on the trip are left in question–but no, there’s little characterization. The movie focuses instead on the driving rain and the cracking of boards on the bridges they cross.
The tension is punctuated by a few bursts of violence and sudden terrible disaster. Even at the end, when the journey was complete, the feeling of impending doom doesn’t quite go away.
I’m not sure that the movie is ultimately nihilistic or merely possessing of a perverted sense of justice. None of the main characters are good people. But neither are we led to believe that all of them deserve the fates they’re meted out. The lack of characterization one way or another doesn’t leave you with the feeling that they got what was coming to them or with any particular sadness because you’d come to like them. Regardless the end feels pointless. Their actions weren’t such that they accomplished something amazing or extremely good. The struggle was more a selfish one; the characters have no motivation other than personal gain. And none of them gains anything ultimately. They could have all sat in the hellhole and suffered and at least three of them probably would have been better off. For them, the attempt to drag themselves out of the situation their bad choices or actions have brought them to backfires horribly. The other guy was probably doomed no matter what he did.
The movie is visually stunning, though it has a few too many jerky/shaky camera shots for my taste. Unfortunately, the unpleasantness of ending makes the experience less than fun. There’s no heroic sacrifices here. Just four men doomed.