William Friedkin’s title can’t help but conjure up images of a horror film. And why not? The man gave us The Exorcist. While this remake of the 1953 French film Wages of Fear isn’t a horror film, it does have many tense scenes and images that somehow look like they were left on the cutting room floor from his landmark horror film of 1973.
The film starts by introducing us to four men from different corners of the world who have little in the way of a future and must flee their own countries for refuge in a South American jungle town. Of the four we have only one “known” actor in the cast. Roy Scheider who at this time had been seen by practically everyone worldwide with a theater in their hometown thanks to Jaws. Scheider is on the run from the mob due to a botched heist.
While living his life in exile he comes into contact with our other banished characters consisting of a banker wanted for embezzlement, a terrorist from the middle east and a mysterious shooter who seems to be watching everyone else. They are all looking for a way back.
Their ticket comes in the form of a job offer. About 200 miles from the village they have settled in is an oil fire that requires a load of nitro/dynamite delivered to cap it. The roads are rough, the bush is dense and the explosives are unstable. Each man is to receive 10000 dollars and a new identity card to escape their current place in exile and hopefully find themselves a future of which they currently don’t have.
With two men to a truck the journey begins and the tension gets cranked up a notch by Friedkin. The highlight of the journey has to be the bridge suspended by ropes and the struggles to get the heavy trucks across them. It has a horror film feel to the proceedings. One truck in particular looks like a demon with steam coming from it’s ears and the music or sound effects if you prefer from Tangerine Dream come across like a wailing Banshee as the trucks make their way over the wavering bridge.
The four men learn to work together one minute and can easily be seen as competitors the next. There is 40 grand up for grabs to whomever can survive the journey and claim a share.
If ever William Friedkin is to be compared to Werner Herzog, this is the film to be talked of. It has a Herzog flavor from the European style it begins with to the dense jungle shoot. All we’re missing is Herzog’s main protagonist Klaus Kinski. Not only do we have a jungle shoot but an amazing rocky landscape heightened by a setting sun casting a purple hue over the towering rock formations.
I generally like this film but can easily see why it wasn’t a success during it’s initial release. While I will always sing the praise of Scheider thanks to my love of Jaws, I do realize he wasn’t a huge draw at the box office. If one can stay with the film long enough to experience the jungle trek it’s a harrowing journey that puts you right in the seat with Roy and company. At times it has a Treasure of the Sierra Madre feel to it and that’s a huge plus in my books.
Bruno Cremer who plays our French banker on the run is solid here and it’s his character that is perhaps most interesting. He’s gone from the riches of fine dining and Armani suits to getting his hands dirty while living in poverty. You can feel the humidity and the sweat coming across from the characters on screen.
I had seen this film years ago in the early days of the VHS tape and recalled some of the bridge crossing scene but it’s the films final moments that I have never forgotten and I still think it’s a memorable ending of which I won’t spoil here.
Nice to see this film restored and put out on blu ray with a bit of fanfare last year. This should appeal to a few different groups. Those who like a vigorous shoot in the Herzog fashion. Scheider fans should rejoice. Art house film fans probably will find something to like as well. Then there is the Friedkin factor who at times has proven to be a director of note.