Opinion, Reviews

“Deliverance”: A review in honor of Burt Reynolds

Movie icon Burt Reynolds once said “My movies were the kind they show in prisons and airplanes, because nobody can leave.” Reynolds died on Sept 6 at 82. So, in honor of his memory, here is one of his films that wouldn’t have to be shown in a prison or on an airplane.

“Deliverance” is a survival film/drama set in the backwoods of Georgia directed and produced by acclaimed filmmaker John Boorman. The movie is based off the novel of the same name by James Dickey, who also wrote the screenplay and has a cameo appearance as the sheriff.

This was one of Reynolds’ most memorable films, and also one of his favorites. He co-stars with Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox as four city dwellers who decide to go on a whitewater canoeing trip on an untamed river before it’s dammed. But their adventure soon turns dangerous after a brutal encounter on the river turns the trip into a nightmare. The group must work together in order to survive

The influence of this film can be felt to this day. Anytime people go hiking or take a trip into the woods, there will be jokes about running if they hear banjo music.

“Deliverance” is actually much different than most seem to remember it. From what I have heard about the movie, I was expecting a B-production action/horror film. “Deliverance” is not an action film and, despite plenty of suspense, it’s not horror, and it’s definitely not a B-production.

Apparently, the only parts from “Deliverance” that seem to be remembered is the music and the infamous “squeal piggy” scene.

Honestly, the banjo soundtrack deserves its iconic status, serving as a great motif for the film. But the “squeal piggy” scene is another matter.

For those not familiar with “Deliverance,” the movie is infamous for a rape sequence. On one hand, that scene did go too far, something that Reynolds, Beatty and everyone else on set felt. However, the scene itself is still brutal. It’s heartbreaking watching Beatty slowly try to walk to safety as his captors laugh in amusement.

“Deliverance” is a much more human film than one would expect. It focuses on these four characters as they are forced to make terrible choices. Each character is memorable in their own ways and the acting is outstanding, delivering complex and powerful performances.

Most movies would have simply ended when the group makes it back to civilization, but “Deliverance” doesn’t. In fact, the movie has a way to go, taking its time to ask if these characters can return to their normal lives after their ordeal. And there are questions that are asked and never answered, leaving the audience to make up their own conclusion. Was this character murdered or did he kill himself? It’s never revealed, truly making this a deep and thoughtful film.

The cinematography is something else to behold. The staging is amazing and the camera placement is brilliant, as are the shots of gorgeous wilderness, set against acts of brutality, truly capturing how nature can be both beautiful and dangerous. The cinematographer for this film was Vilmos Zsigmond, who is considered to be one of the greatest cinematographers – and for good reason.

Of course, this movie isn’t perfect. The only major flaw of the film may be its depiction of hillbillies as inbred, bucktoothed rapists. Technically, “Deliverance” is a part of a group of films called hicksploitation, which was a subgenre of movies about a group of travelers being attacked by savage hillbillies, with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Hills Have Eyes” as examples.

Even though Burt Reynolds doesn’t really play the main character, he does stand out. As Lewis, he is undoubtedly the alpha male of the group.

Reynolds actually broke his tailbone while filming. Both he and the other main actors had to perform their own stunts because it was cheaper for production. There are scenes where Reynolds is being rolled down rapids in a canoe – that is really him.

“By far the most dangerous thing I’d ever done, or that any of us have done” Burt Reynolds said in an interview with Palm Beach Post. “They keep talking about a remake, but I don’t think you could find four actors crazy enough to do it.”

Every actor deserves respect for finishing this production, especially Reynolds, who continued despite his injury.

“I have to admit that, in spite of the danger, or maybe because of the danger, it was the most fun I ever had,” he said.

“Deliverance” is a great movie, much better than it’s given credit for. With so many talented people, they were able to create a real classic. This is not a B-movie production, but a film that deserves to be remembered better than it is.

Rest in peace Burt Reynolds.

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