Deliverance Review

(2.5 STARS)

Deliverance is part rousing adventure, part cautionary tale, part criminal cover-up, and part fish-out-of-water story, all thrown together and mixed with a little violence and humor. And that’s the film’s problem; It doesn’t have a strong identity (though its sense of place is exceptional), and its tone is all over the place. In the end, Deliverance is moderately entertaining, but one can’t help but wonder what could have been if director John Boorman honed things in a bit more.

The film chronicles the journey of four city friends canoeing down a dangerous Georgia river. The leader of the group is Lewis (Burt Reynolds), who fashions himself a real outdoorsman. He misses the time when men knew how to live off the land—something his friends aren’t quite capable of. Second-in-command is Ed (Jon Voight). He’s a family man who uses his trips with Lewis as an escape from his ordinary life. Drew (Ronny Cox) is the group’s conscience. He’s also the one who befriends a local in the film’s brilliant opening banjo duel scene. Finally, there’s Bobby (Ned Beatty), who’s slightly overweight and definitely the group’s punching bag. Their journey goes swimmingly enough at first, but when Bobby and Ed pull off the river, they are captured by some troublesome locals. The confrontation that ensues results in the four’s lives being changed forever.

Deliverance has a lot going for it. Some of the performances are quite good (Voight in particular). It’s also a very authentic film. Rather than casting actors to mimic the look, speaking patterns, and movements of “mountain folk,” Boorman uses the real thing. It’s almost astonishing to see people actually living like that in the 1970s, when they’d fit better in the 1870s.

Undoubtedly, the film’s biggest asset is its score. As noted earlier, the opening scene with the dueling banjos is a real highlight. It’s easy for one’s hopes to skyrocket after an opening scene that strong, but they can just as easily come crashing down afterward. Deliverance moves along well enough for a while before its truly subpar final 30 minutes derail the picture completely.

Still, the acting is very good. Voight is exceptional as Ed, who likes to fall in line whenever possible but is called upon to act during crisis. You can see his two sides conflicting whenever he points his bow and arrow and something (or someone). Burt Reynolds is also good. He’s plays a variation of the same character Reynolds always plays (the cocky, self-assured man’s man), but he does it well. My only complaint here is that his character nearly disappears from screen about halfway through. The two other principal cast members (Beatty and Cox) are good, but nothing to write home about.

Deliverance is regarded as a classic by most, although it’s not a moniker I think the film earns. It was nominated for Best Picture in 1972, which is surprising considering the explicitly violent material, and it offers a few pleasures (like the opening scene … seriously, it’s exceptional), but overall, it’s definitely a disappointment.

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