STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $18.98
R for RAPE
RUNNING TIME: 109 Minutes

  • Commentary by director John Boorman
  • Four-part 35th anniversary retrospective with the film’s stars, director John Boorman, and others
  • Vintage featurette: The Dangerous World of Deliverance
  • Theatrical trailer

The Pitch

Four Georgia boys get away from the rat race one weekend, taking a canoe trip through an isolated river about to be dammed up forever. Along the way they find out their true selves through hardship, death, murder, and the pounding pelvic thrusts of a pork obsessed bumpkin.

The Humans

Director: John Boorman.

Flesh Puppets: Burt Reynolds. Ned Beatty. Jon Voight. Ronny Cox.

Banjos: Dueling.

Hilarious Keywords for Deliverance which could almost serve as my review for the film:

Bare Butt | Anal Rape | Graveyard | Interrogation | Insurance Agent | Nightmare | Guilt | Disturbing | Family Reunion | Exhumation | Very Little Dialogue | Male Nudity

The Nutshell

If hard pressed I’d say that 1972 was one of the greatest years in the history of the world, if not the best. Granted, I just polished off my 34th year and if I take a gander at my birth certificate I might notice a little bit of home cookin’ on that statement. In reality 1972 was a majestic year for movies, what with The Godfather, SleuthThe Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and Deliverance in the mix and though the business was on the eve of the biggest period in creative and financial growth it’d ever know the signs were certainly there if the work of Francis Ford Coppola and John Boorman in 1972 were any indication.

Deliverance is an eye-opening film, one that’s remarkably rustic today but was a roundhouse kick of raw energy and emotion upon its release and for the first time a newcomer sees it. Granted, I wouldn’t imagine one of today’s twelve year old boys being shattered by the film having grown up in a world where television pushes the boundaries of what’s considered edgy entertainment and the simple, unforgettable plucking of Dueling Banjos is a downloadable ringtone synonymous for backwoods inbreeding. My experience with the film was that of a rite of passage being shared by my father, a first look at a notorious film for grown ups that features not only a horrible sexual act but a reality pill that danger exists where you least expect it and in the most beautiful and remote places this world has to offer.

“Wha… yer sayin’ I kin’ be president someday?”


Based on James Dickey’s possibly [he made comments that it was but the man was a born bullshitter] autobiographical novel, the film is both extremely spare and complicated. The premise of four somewhat white collar guys taking a weekend jaunt into the hills instead of the golf course only to have their lives forever changed could as easily be a searing drama as it could be a high concept horror film. Part of Deliverance’s appeal and notoriety is in how it doesn’t judge or provide answers. It puts human beings into an environment and sees how they squirm. The results are both dramatic and horrific but seeing it as we both celebrate our 35th anniversary on this planet I found the film to have come full circle for me. When I initially saw it, it was a life-changing movie. I was young. It was the 70’s, and my father had warned me that the film I was about to see was intense. He probably didn’t tell me that a guy was going to get assfucked but I was too young to know what that meant even though I attended Catholic mass every Sunday for a while.

Sorry, Catholic priest molestation jokes are too easy and far beneath me. Unlike the priests, who were above and/or behind me, depending on how hot I was dressed.

Surprisingly, not a moment from the assrape scene.

The Lowdown

Deliveranceis still a masterpiece, whether it be due to the amazing stillness and grace its pacing and execution conveys or the series of shattering events that leave the survivors hollow and fearful shells of themselves. This is an artfully made movie, something which is still fresh from the opening sounds of friends giving each other shit as the company credits appear right on through the odd and weirdly shot transformation moment for Jon Voight’s character as he spends a night on a cliff top waiting to kill a man. There’s a lot of air between the big moments here, and though it isn’t an improvisational film there’s a really immersive nature to the way the cast interacts and the camera digests it all.

Surprisingly, not a moment from the Ronny Cox’s mutated arm is horribly sickening scene.

With the sounds of nature serving as the real score of the movie with interspersed variations on the film’s award winning banjo tune,  this thing just seethes with atmosphere. Also, the script is so lean and the actors so good that it only takes a minimum of dialogue to know exactly who these people are, what their pecking order is, and where the weak links are. It’s amazingly efficient work that runs counter to what a Hollywood project even of the early 70’s tried to be. It’s singular in every way and not unlike Jaws half a decade later, Deliverance is one of those template films which created the mold for like-minded films we still see today. One could very easily dismiss this as a threadbare story grafted to a few horrific scenes and be done with it and in the wake of many horror films and thriller which do operate from a very minimalist approach it’s tempting but once the four men meet up with their hillbilly counterparts it’s apparent that this is something unique.

Burt Reynolds is magnetic as Lewis, the domineering and most driven of the foursome. Having had only a few small television and film roles prior to Deliverance, his work here sent him on a massive trajectory up that’d carry him well into the 80’s as a sex symbol and bona fide movie star. He deserves it too. His Lewis is a true leader, blunt and fearless and willing to do what is necessary without hesitation. With his sly glare and dangerous acumen with a compound bow offset by his silly laugh and million dollar smile, Lewis is character we’d expect to save the day in the film’s third act. Luckily, it’s the film’s decision not to adhere to that stereotype that helps make it so special. Reynolds is so strong and aware of his responsibility to bring the sex appeal to the role that it allows the transformation of Jon Voight’s Ed that much more of a big deal. While Voight gets a lot of the meaty work in the film, I never much appreciated his performance until this viewing, focusing instead on his sometimes sketchy Southern accent and fact that Ed isn’t as complex on
the surface as his friends. I was wrong of course as he’s the most thickly realized character and I often forget was a powerhouse the actor was in the 70’s.

Burt later regretted his hobby of hunting and killing the world’s premier plastic surgeons.

Ronny Cox is a great counterweight as the painfully straight-laced Drew, a character who only opens up when he has his trusty guitar in his hands. Of course, Cox gets to share what is the film’s singular moment in the musical sparring session with the porch-bound little inbred redneck kid as they tear through Dueling Banjos. It’s still an amazing sequence which is surprisingly as much made by the cutaways to the other characters as it is the dexterous and unforgettable musical bit. Seeing Burt Reynolds summing up the scene, his slight condescending glances at the locals and Ned Beatty taking the scene in with utter and total innocence does as much for these characters as any dialogue could. It’s a strength of Dickey’s prose [as the author and screenwriter] as it is Boorman’s and his amazing foursome.

Beatty gets the most emotional work in the film and seeing him stripped of that innocence is not only heartbreaking but a vital turn of event in a story about men who are so caught up in their reality that the danger of the real world blindsides them and the actor’s work here firmly establishes why he’s one of the world’s greatest character actors. He embodies both the gleeful bliss and bleak epilogue to Bobby’s world so perfectly that it’s surprising to see how his transformation actually represents a much more grounded and sane place of being than Ed’s, the guy who escapes the blade and dick of his enemy.

Amazing work all around and were it not for the unstoppable and deserving The Godfather coming out in the same year, Deliverance may be one of those films bestowed with tons of little gold men.

Surprisingly, the “squeal like a pig” and “purty mouth” lines have become so much a part of the vernacular that it’s hard not to dismiss the film as merely a timestamp on a pop culture phenomenon. Upon further inspection I’m reminded just how deft and brilliant the film is.

It’s simply a film everyone should see, and a true and rare rite of passage.

The Package

I love the original one sheet and always get pissed when they have to get all smart and shit with double dips boasting asshole tightening artwork. This is an ensemble flick. Four guys, all of which whom deliver vital and seminal work. If they’re going to use photographic covers that veer from the source material, they should highlight the four actors who are quite amazingly still sought after and talented stars. Not just the two who were lucky enough to be substantial box office names. Actually, they should have just used the original artwork.

The special features are lovely, bouyed primarily by a 4 part 35th anniversary retrospective featuring all of the principals, all of which who fully
understand that this thing MADE them. Even the notorious Burt Reynolds is affable, respectful, and forthcoming about the project and there’s so much great information here that it almost warrants its own DVD release. Deliverance is a film that nearly everyone has seen or knows about, mostly for the one big controversial scene but also because it’s one of the quintessential guy’s films and such a rite of passage. This is a really rich and informative work, a true complement to the film.

John Boorman’s commentary is excellent as well though a lot of the material is redundant in light of the aformentioned documentary. This is a step up from
Excalibur, which while one of my favorite films ever, featured a dreadfully boring commentary track. Boorman’s great to listen to, something made better by
the fact he’s still an interesting filmmaker, and Deliverance will be the film mentioned on his gravestone. With that in mind, the commentary track doesn’t disappoint though I do recommend listening to it during a different sitting from the retrospective for fear of his every next word beeing eerily predicted by you.

There’s also an old featurette from the making of the film that’s a fun curiosity but moreso evidence of just how far the world of documentary filmmaking has progressed. It’s a lovely collection of material that truly supplements the film and the only way I’d have been happier would be if there was some amazing virtual walkthrough diorama of the woodland rape area akin to Bungie’s amazing new Halo 3 spot.

A man can dream.

9.4 out of 10