A movie about trucks could have worked in 1977. One did, in fact, but that was Smokey and the Bandit. Despite the title, however, which is the name of a truck, William Friedkin's follow-up to the one-two punch of The French Connection and The Exorcist isn't really about trucks. It's a respectful remake of a great film, The Wages of Fear (1953). Friedkin dedicates his film to Henri-Georges Clouzot, who directed Wages and died a few months before Sorcerer's release, but he claims to be adapting the source novel, written by Georges Arnaud. In fact, Friedkin opens up the story to give it global sweep, creating dramatic backstories for the four men who end up driving trucks loaded with nitroglycerin through hellish terrain to help put out an oil well fire somewhere in Latin America. One is a French banker fleeing the imminent collapse of a shady business venture. Another is a Palestinian terrorist fleeing the wrath of the Mossad after a Jerusalem bombing. A third is a New Jersey criminal (Roy Scheider) and sole survivor of a church robbery in a powerful gangster's parish. The fourth is a hit man (Francisco Rabal), and once he arrives in the same squalid company town where the other three labor in obscurity we're supposed to wonder which of the three he's here to kill, as it could be any one. But when he kills a fourth man, a German, in order to make himself the final member of the nitro team that consists coincidentally of our other three protagonists, the suspense dissipates in confusion. Did he kill the German so he'd be in a position to take out his real target, or was the German, a character of which we know relatively little, his real target after all? We know, or are led to believe, that some Germans in the vicinity are Nazi war criminals, so it is a possibility. But it seems unlikely that a hit man would have any reason of his own to undertake a probably-suicidal job, so I assumed that he was still after one of the other three. In any event, there's no payoff to this whole angle, and that's one of the frustrating things about this movie, which famously flopped when it appeared in the summer of Star Wars after a two-year production.
What Sorcerer lacks is a strong character or relationship to hold everything together. Roy Scheider is the only American star in the cast, but he's an ensemble player here, and like his co-stars he has a situation rather than a character. We understand the predicament of each protagonist and the danger each is in with the hitman hanging around, but there's nothing particularly interesting about them as people -- and that goes for the hitman, too. For me the French banker (Bruno Cremer) was the most interesting character, with the most personal background apart from his crime. Looking at the film from 33 years later, I was intrigued by the remarkably non-judgmental presentation of the Palestinian (Amidou), who could just as easily have been Irish or Basque for the purpose he serves. In the pre-jihad days of 1977, the terrorist isn't shown as a generic Muslim, but as basically the same sort of hard-boiled, quick-thinking problem solver as his colleagues.
The trailer isn't letterboxed either, but it's still pretty intense and features some hellacious music by Tangerine Dream. realmrl3londe uploaded it to YouTube.