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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Deliverance

Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds
Director: John Boorman
Rated: R
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: July 1972
Genres: Action, Drama

*Also starring: Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, Bill McKinney, Herbert Cowboy Coward, James Dickey

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
3.  Walter Frith read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

"Machines are going to fail," Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds) warns Ed Gentry (Jon Voight). "Systems are going to fail. Then survival."

No, he's not talking about the year 2000 software problem. In director John Boorman's classic 1972 film, Lewis is generally weary of everything electrical and mechanical. He's a macho, but pensive, guy who is taking three of his buddies, Ed, Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty) and Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox), on a canoe trip down a wild river. A manmade lake will soon bury the river, so they will be among the last people who get to ride down it. DELIVERANCE is a chilling tale of the four men's fight against evil men, the forces of nature and their own limitations as humans.

Famous, Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), in San Jose to accept the Maverick Spirit Award from San Jose's Cinequest Film Festival, chose DELIVERANCE as the movie he wanted to show after receiving his award.

Before the movie he spoke about its filming, telling us how physically exhausting the shoot was. They had to take canoes every day to get to the filming location. Because of the danger, they had planned to use stuntmen extensively, but the footage that made it into the final cut has the stuntmen in only a few, brief, rock climbing scenes.

They made a decision to film all of the river scenes only on overcast days, so they could get just the right threatening look that they wanted. This was a financial risk since they had no idea if they would get enough overcast days. Sometimes they had to wait for hours for a little cloud to block out the sun before they could roll the cameras.

Another consideration was where to mount the cameras during the key scenes on the river. After several experiments, they found that enclosing them in plastic and mounting them as close to water level as possible produced the best results. In addition they used long lenses which magnified the effect of the speed and the action, thus intensifying the drama.

The movie opens disarmingly as Drew, on his guitar, plays a good-spirited, impromptu duet with a young, backwoods, mountain boy playing his banjo. This hauntingly tranquil banjo music will reappear periodically during the movie as will scenes of the placid sections of the river. And there will be peaceful shots of roaring campfires and of the river at twilight, all to provide sharp contrast to the horror of their journey.

When things first go just slightly wrong, Ed suggests that they play golf instead of taking the canoeing vacation -- advice that they will all wish that they had taken. When they finally venture out on the river, Bobby has a simple question. "Which way we goin'?" the neophyte asks. "I think downstream would be best, don't you?" quips Lewis.

Having Zsigmond present at the screening made us more conscious than normal about the cinematography. Even though we were watching a washed out, old print, the brilliance of his techniques were still easy to recognize. Consider just two examples. As Lewis drives his car way too fast through the dense woods, frightening Ed, Zsigmond lets their faces be partially obscured by fast moving leaves reflecting on the windshield, thus making the speed seem palpably dangerous. In the burial scene, Zsigmond shows how the men are reduced to animals. Focusing in on their hands and faces as they dig the grave, the once civilized men have been reduced to their basest instincts.

The viscerally gripping film, which begins with a foreboding peace, ends with a frightening one. All appears well, but it isn't and never will be for the men who survive. They will forever after be haunted by nightmares of their journey.

DELIVERENCE runs 1:49. It is rated R for intense violence, graphic gore and rape and should be considered NC-17, a rating that they did not have at the time of the movie's release.

Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes

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