28 October 2007 | TOMASBBloodhound
Just getting this one filmed was a huge accomplishment.
Friedkin claims this was the toughest film to make of his career, and it isn't hard to see why. The balance of this film takes place in some woe begotten Latin American country. You can just feel the poverty and desperation in the air as the only work is for an oil drilling firm who doesn't exactly seem bent on worker safety. The elements are intentionally brutal and they only add to the tension. And thats even before this story really gets going.
Early on, we are introduced to four characters who are all guilty of doing something terrible in one corner of the world or another. Roughly a half hour into the film, all four find themselves in a tiny impoverished Latin American village trying to eek out a living and forget the troubles they left behind. Not only is the local economy weak, but the place is socially on the verge of revolution. It's amazing the kind of jobs men will volunteer for to get out of these circumstances. Anyway, these four men are given the chance of transporting some highly explosive dynamite through rugged terrain in crappy old trucks so it can be used to put out a massive oil fire some 200 miles away. It is noted by one of the men that more than enough explosives are being transported. Obviously, at least one of the trucks is not expected to make it! Not only do you have an explosive cargo with unreliable trucks, but also there are armed rebels along the way who probably won't just let you pass right on through. Still, the reward for completing this job is just too much to pass on.
The film is very, very good. In fact the skill that it took to make the film is responsible for most of the stars I'm giving it. The story itself is often just not believable. The journey these four men take is ludicrously perilous. They drive their vehicles over rickety bridges that nobody in real life would have tried to get over in those trucks. Like in other Friedken films, no character is completely likable, but that only makes it tougher to figure out who will live and who will die. There are a few nice twists here and there, right up to the very end to keep you guessing. The acting is exceptional. Scheider was Friedkin's fourth or fifth choice for the main character. Steve McQueen originally wanted it badly, but he demanded a part included for then wife Ali McGraw. Friedkin balked at this and then later regretted the decision. He later stated that he never thought Scheider was a good enough leading man. This is an error, however. Scheider is a terrific actor and his performance here is outstanding.
The film bombed badly at the box office. Heck, if you weren't in line to see Star Wars that year, you were in line to see Smokey and the Bandit! This is definitely one of Friedkin's best, and it has somehow almost been completely forgotten. The film apparently got a PG rating but it is filled with violence and all manner of evil goings on. You'll have to suspend your disbelief for some of the scenes, but you'll be glad you did. I'll give it 8 of 10 stars.
Added Feb 14, 2008: RIP Roy Scheider!