|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
Based on a novel by James Dickey, who adapted the screenplay, ‘Deliverance’ tells the story of four Georgia businessmen who go on a weekend canoeing expedition together. The river is scheduled to be dammed up soon, and Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the group’s outdoorsman leader, insists that his friends journey along it through the backwoods before it is turned into a lake. There are treacherous rapids, of course, but the white water turns out to be the least of the group’s worries.
Director John Boorman has a sure and beautiful eye, taking our breath away right from the start with an incredible half-drowned landscape in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 has great separation of ambient cricket and bird sounds, respecting and integrating the dialogue without noticeably punching it up. Chapter 3 has the immortal "Dueling Banjos" duet (it’s actually a banjo dueling with a guitar, for the literal-minded), which is at once an exultant piece of folk music and a fantastic metaphor for what is to come. It provides a moment of sheer joy and communion that dissolves into mysterious alienation immediately afterward, with the good-hearted city fellow Drew (Ronny Cox) trying in vain to rekindle a spark of recognition in the boy who just joined him in musical duet. Chapters 6 and 8 put us acoustically right on the river with the wildly thrashing canoes.
In Chapter 12, as the tension ratchets up, there are a few bits of muddied dialogue on an otherwise solid track. Chapter 13 is a sequence of such sustained human-on-human horror that we fully comprehend the characters’ subsequent disorientation. It dredges up fears so deep that most films don’t dare to tread here and, as intended, colors all that comes afterward.
The performances from Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox are all perfect, without any overplaying or miscalculation. We believe the four of them start to finish.
The ‘Deliverance’ DVD comes with some intriguing production notes - by all accounts, this was one tough shoot - and a making-of short that should only be seen after watching the film, if then. The portentous narration keeps insisting that the film is about man finding himself and being altered by nature. Without giving away key plot points (if anybody doesn’t already know exactly what happens already), it’s human nature rather than the flora, fauna or even liquid variety that is key here. Skip the analysis and go straight to the main attraction. If you haven’t seen ‘Deliverance’ in awhile, you can see for yourself that it holds up; if you’ve never seen it before, it’s a cinematic rite of passage.