Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: "Deliverance" Still Delivers (In Memoriam, Bill McKinney)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 179 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Deliverance (1972)
Running time: 109 minutes (1 hour, 49 minutes)
WRITER: James Dickey (based upon his novel)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Vilmos Zsigmond (director of photography)
EDITOR: Tom Priestly
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, Bill McKinney, Hebert “Cowboy” Coward, Billy Redden, and James Dickey

Four suburban friends: Ed Gentry (Jon Voight), Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds), Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty), and Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox) take a canoeing trip down the Cahulawasse River in Georgia at the behest of Lewis who wants them to see what’s going to be destroyed in the name of progress (The river’s being dammed to produce electricity). What began as a fun adventure, however, turns horrific when redneck locales (alternately referred to as “crackers” or “hillbillies”) descend on the quartet and brutalizes one of the party and threatens to kill the rest. [The most memorable is the “Mountain Man” (Bill McKinney) who demands that Bobby Trippe “squeal like a pig.”] Before long the river trip becomes a race to escape this heart of darkness, and one of them learns that he must kill or be killed if they’re to make it back to civilization.

Director John Boorman’s 1972 film, Deliverance, carries with a bit of infamy due to a particular assault that occurs just before the film’s midpoint. It remains, however, one of the great American films about survival. Based upon the novel by James Dickey, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, Deliverance covers all the classic conflicts: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, and, in the end, even approaches a bit of man vs. society. One could also view the film as a battle of the New Man against the Old Man – American modern versus American primeval.

Regardless of how the viewer approaches conflict, Deliverance is the razor’s edge of storytelling about the struggle to survive and those battles against interior doubts and physical weakness that impede the struggle to survive. The film’s main stars: Voight, Reynolds, Beatty, and Cox personify this struggle in their characters, and through each one we watch the logical outcomes of how different men approach their dilemmas and to what extend they win, lose, or draw. The pivotal performance is Voight’s. Of the four characters, only Ed Gentry is directly connected to each of his three partners, and the others are strangers to one another. So much of this movie’s philosophy and plot line run through him, and Voight carries it well with a subtle, layered performance.

It’s a testament to Boorman’s direction and Dickey’s script that they allowed the actors to largely tell us this story. For all its intensity, Deliverance is free of theatrics, but rich in human drama, which comes when good actors take the plot and setting and construct a great story.

8 of 10

1973 Academy Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Picture” (John Boorman), “Best Director” (John Boorman), and “Best Film Editing” (Tom Priestley)

1973 BAFTA Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Cinematography” (Vilmos Zsigmond), “Best Film Editing” (Tom Priestley), and “Best Sound Track” (Jim Atkinson, Walter Goss, and Doug E. Turner)

1973 Golden Globes: 5 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (John Boorman), “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama” (Jon Voight), “Best Original Song” (Arthur Smith-music, Steve Mandel-adaptation, and Eric Weissberg-adaptation for the song "Dueling Banjos") and “Best Screenplay” (James Dickey)

2008 National Film Preservation Board: National Film Registry


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