Warner Home Video presents
"Sometimes you have to lose yourself before you can find anything."- Lewis (Burt Reynolds)
Stars: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
Director: John Boorman
MPAA Rating: RRun Time: 01h:48m:54s
Release Date: 2007-09-18
DVD ReviewThe first post-Hays Code films, from the late 1960s and early 1970s, marked a renaissance of sorts for American filmmaking—and while lots of (justifiable) praise has been heaped on the movies of Scorsese and Coppola, Friedkin and Bogdanovich from this period, one of the less evident but equally remarkable aspects of some of these pictures are their investigations of the nature of American manhood. In a funny sort of way, the film that Deliverance may have the most in common with is Jaws—both get at something primal, about the nature of civilization and its inherent perils, and both of course are water stories. But you need not go all Robert Bly to enjoy either or both as adventure stories—the darker tones of Deliverance mean that it's not a film for everyone, but if you can stomach it, it remains both iconic and deeply powerful.
John Boorman directed from a screenplay by James Dickey, adapted from Dickey's novel, and even away from all the metaphors and poetry, it's a rip-snorting adventure. This is the story of four Atlanta professionals who decide to take a weekend trip to get back to nature—the mighty Cahulawasee River is about to be dammed, to generate power for a plant that will in turn deliver air conditioning to the Atlanta homes and offices of gentlemen like these, but before they take all their creature comforts for granted, they're going to spend a couple of days canoeing down the river and getting back in touch with the natural world. The leader of the clan is Lewis, who is all bravado—it's a performance of great physical bravery and emotional nuance from Burt Reynolds, the kind of work that's going to surprise those who know him only from phoned-in junk like the Smokey and the Bandit movies, or the continuing stream of Loni Anderson and hairpiece jokes. His best pal in the group is Ed, played by Jon Voight, essentially the conscience of the piece, and our hero—there's no doubting that Voight strung together some of the very best performances of his generation, and he's just as good here as he is in Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home. Rounding out the quartet are two actors making their film debuts: Ronny Cox, who plays half of the duet on the film's signature musical number, "Dueling Banjos," and Ned Beatty, as a slightly portly sort who rightly comes by his suspicions about Lewis, their fearless leader.
Of course what was supposed to be a couple of days of swapping manly stories, catching fish and drinking beer takes on a much more sinister cast—it's as if by going on this trip these men have reverted to a Hobbesian state of nature, where everything is brutal, a world of all against all. To discuss the plot extensively is to give too much of it away—suffice it to say for these purposes that the locals don't much cotton to these city mice getting their jollies on their turf. One of the potential dangers in a project like this is condescending to the locals, and showing them as nothing but savages or hayseeds, yet Boorman humanizes even the worst of them—especially haunting is the face of Hoyt Pollard, the other half of the "Dueling Banjos" tandem, whose face is practically an icon of all that's malevolent once you're past the town line.
Certainly no discussion of Deliverance would be complete without mention of its infamous rape scene, which after 35 years has lost not an iota of its power to disturb. (In a moving op-ed piece for The New York Times a number of years ago, Beatty discussed how, in a career of fine performances in some great movies, this is the scene that he gets asked about the most, and frequently in terms that are less than kind.) It's the kind of stuff that will haunt your memory, and to an extent stands as a proxy for the entire film. Dickey himself has a grand appearance as the local sheriff who seeks to sort out the carnage; Boorman and his cinematographer, the late Vilmos Zsigmond, deserve the highest praise for their work as well. They're content to let the camera linger on the faces of men in emotional turmoil, to show us their inner conflicts as well as the ones they face on the river—it can be unbearable, almost, to witness some of their pain, and if ultimately the story isn't redemptive (it doesn't hope to be), as a piece of filmmaking it is indelible.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Zsigmond's photography has faded some and could have stood some restoration work, but the transfer to DVD is a handsome one, full of nuance and a lustrous palette.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Boorman eschewed any music other than "Dueling Banjos," so there wouldn't be much to mask a subpar transfer—thankfully this one needs no apologies or caveats. Atmospheric, moody, well balanced and clear.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Boorman
Extras Review: Boorman has recorded an excellent commentary track, on which he walks us through all the usual territory—battles with the studio over casting (first they wanted big stars, then decided big stars were too expensive), the perils of shooting such a physically demanding film, and the frequent interference on the set from Dickey. The director is consistently engaging and candid, though you may come to doubt his judgment (his actors surely did) when he says that he won't ever use stuntmen or doubles. If you're a fan of the film, it's worth a listen.
Four newly produced documentaries provide a full history of the project. The Beginning (16m:43s) features the four principal actors, Boorman, and Christopher Dickey, John's son, all discussing writing and casting. The Journey (13m:03s) is about the shoot, with particular emphasis on the solid contributions from Zsigmond; Betraying the River (14m:36s) is about the unique physical perils of the production, and Delivered (10m:36s) discusses the filmmakers' issues with censorship, the movie's reception, both critically and with audiences, and its travels on the awards circuit. And The Dangerous World of Deliverance (10m:12s) is a making-of feature produced at the time of the movie's release, with almost an exclusive emphasis on Dickey as a Great Man.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsA brutally iconic movie from the last great era of American filmmaking, Deliverance truly is a journey down river into the heart of darkness. It's far from being a movie for everyone, and so the feint of heart have been warned; for the rest of us, it's taut with dramatic tension and brimming with career-defining performances. Presentation on this DVD is excellent, and the extras package is illuminating.
Jon Danziger 2007-09-17