Running time: 110 mins
Director: John Boorman
Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
Genre: Drama, Thriller
No Hixploitation list can even claim to be anywhere near complete without the seminal adaptation of James Dickey’s novel that is Deliverance. With the intention of experiencing the great
Cahulawassee River before it’s flooding and transformation into a large four friends set out of the survival weekend into the heart of ’s back-country and immense darkness. America
As a film Deliverance is one of several assaults. We are not given the opportunity to discover what the locals think of the River formation but it doesn’t take a massive inference to reach the conclusion that it’s probably considered to be the ‘no good city folk coming in here and knowing our business better than we do’. The flooding of the River and it’s transformation into a lake is not only an assault on nature by corporate America but an assault on the landscape which has been part of the families in the surrounding area for generations. When you look at it this way it almost inevitable what is to come for Bobby (Beatty) and co.
Deliverance is known by cinema audiences for two scenes; the first is Drew’s (Cox) rendition of Dueling Banjos with Lonnie (Billy Redden) which is absolutely enthralling. As a banjo newbie I’m absolutely envious of both men’s ability and they create a scene that’s sweet yet sinister and is unrivalled cinematically. The second is, obviously, the sexual assault endured by Bobby by the ‘Mountain Man’ played by Bill McKinney. There have had many cinematic sexual assaults in the forty years since Deliverance but what’s truly frightening about this scene is not just how easy and matter of fact the scene plays out but Jon Voight. Much of the scene is played off Voight’s (Ed) reaction as he is shackled to a nearby tree. Stony faced Voight conveys a world of emotion through his eyes, not only does he see what’s happening to a close friend, a rape that will take a considerable amount of time to overcome, but he’s also aware that the same fate must surely be around the corner for him. It’s the anticipation that is the most unnerving aspect of this scene.
Aside from Voight, who plays through more emotions and sides of character than he’s probably ever been asked to do in one film, Ned Beatty is fantastic. Like a lot of victims of sexual violence his determination to overcome to astonishing. Out of the rape comes a steel like determination to survive that’s common in Exploitation and is almost a rebirth for his character. It’s a true testament to his performance that though he has 160 credits to his name he has never fully stepped out from the shadow of Bobby and Deliverance. Ronny Cox is another excellent piece of casting and his humanistic Drew is a character unlike what Cox would later discover to be his raison d'etre. All the supporting cast are fantastic, there’s no-one who falters under Boorman’s direction but without doubt Burt Reynolds not only delivers the performance of the film, but arguably one of the top two performances of his career (alongside Boogie Nights). Reynolds’ Lewis is as aspirer, he aspires to be a mountain man, a hunter, an action hero and although he manages to save his friend Ed from being raped he also plunges them into a deadly to and fro not just with the Hillbillies but with law enforcement. This, coupled with this way he submits to Ed’s plan shows how Lewis’ understanding of himself and his realization of himself have managed to find a common middle ground after some of the most traumatic life experiences he’s ever likely to encounter. The change is Reynolds’ characterization is superb…simply superb.
Boorman’s direction is a career high and stands alone and unmatched. His framing of the River gives the landscape a centralizing role in the narrative and makes the area a character in it’s own right. Some of the photography is beautiful and at times reminiscent of Gator Bait yet at times rapid and shapely cut together to create a wonderful representation of how dangerous nature can be. Final acknowledgement belongs to the score, it’s simple, it’s beautiful, it’s wonderfully atmospheric and most importantly is heavy (Dom De Luise heavy) with banjo.
Deliverance enters it’s fourth decade and is as emotive, shocking, engaging and beautiful as it has ever been. As pieces of narrative based cinema goes there are few that do it better.