One of the key films of the 1970s, John Boorman's Deliverance
is a nightmarish adaptation of poet-novelist James Dickey's book about various kinds of survival in modern America. The story concerns four Atlanta businessmen of various male stripe: Jon Voight's character is a reflective, civilized fellow, Burt Reynolds plays a strapping hunter-gatherer in urban clothes, Ned Beatty is a sweaty, weak-willed boy-man, and Ronny Cox essays a spirited, neighborly type. Together they decide to answer the ancient call of men testing themselves against the elements and set out on a treacherous ride on the rapids of an Appalachian river. What they don't understand until it is too late is that they have ventured into Dickey's variation on the American underbelly, a wild, lawless, dangerous (and dangerously inbred) place isolated from the gloss of the late 20th century. In short order, the four men dig deep into their own suppressed primitiveness, defending themselves against armed cretins, facing the shock of real death on their carefully planned, death-defying adventure, and then squarely facing the suspicions of authority over their concealed actions. Boorman, a master teller of stories about individuals on peculiarly mythical journeys, does a terrifying and beautiful job of revealing the complexity of private and collective character--the way one can never be the same after glimpsing the sharp-clawed survivor in one's soul. --Tom Keogh
On the DVD
The single-disc deluxe edition of Deliverance has plenty to recommend it over the previously released DVD. In addition to an improved transfer, director John Boorman recorded a full-length commentary track in which he explains how he shot the famous "Duelling Banjos" scene when the boy didn't know how to play the banjo, how he was instructed to use unknown actors and came up with Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty, and how he persuaded Jon Voight to do the picture when the actor was going through a difficult time ("he told me I saved his life, , then spent three months trying to kill him"). A 2007 55-minute documentary is split into four parts: The Beginning, The Journey, Betraying the River (focusing on the "squeal like a pig" scene), and Delivered. Voight, Cox, Beatty, Burt Reynolds, and Boorman all participate, as do director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond and "mountain man" Bill McKinney. Christopher Dickey, son of the author of the original novel, James Dickey, also recounts his father's experiences with the film and how he eventually had to be asked to leave the set. Included from the original DVD are the theatrical trailer and the vintage documentary "The Dangerous World of Deliverance," which is an interesting contrast to the other bonus material because of its use of behind-the-scenes footage (rather than stills) and showing Dickey working at his university. --David Horiuchi
Nature and mountain men humble four Atlanta businessmen on a canoe trip in the Appalachian wilds. Directed by John Boorman. From the James Dickey novel.