Saturday, January 9, 2010
Day 304: The Wages of Fear (1953) - Rank 4.5/5
I have friends who knock my penchant for French cinema, since the stereotype for the genre is romances or period dramas or...well, I have no idea what mindsets I'm up against, to tell you the truth. Whatever they may be, they cannot deny the badassery on display in Henri Georges Clouzot's tale of four men desperate to make some easy cash and possibly prove something to themselves along the way. Set in South America, the film centers around a motley lot of vagabonds, cons and other reprobates who have ended up at the armpit of the world and cannot seem to escape. They while away their days in the local cantina, dreaming of a better life outside the humid environment (think "Casablanca" with less Nazis and more sweat). In the pitiful economy of the town, airfare out seems impossible until the Southern Oil Company (SOC) has an outbreak of fires at one of its fields. They hire four men from the local rabble (the main focus on Mario, played by Yves Montand) to transport large containers of nitro glycerin across the treacherous jungle along winding, bumpy roads. The job promises almost certain death, but the pay is a small fortune to the men.
The majority of the film is the actual drive, and while the idea of the mission seems a little corny, Clouzot directs it with such sustained suspense that you truly do find yourself holding your breath at numerous stages. It's also a unique take on teh action film, where the antagonists are not a man in possession of a laser that could destroy the earth or some sort of monster; the true threats are a boulder blocking the road, a mile drive over wooden planks and a rickety platform. And at the risk of spoiling the film (disregard this, if you must), the resolution turns out far darker that I expected, to the point that I remarked "Really?" to the screen upon the film's completion. And while that might suggest to you that all four men are "blowed up" during the mission, I can assure you that there is a more macabre finale to the two-and-a-half hour epic that leaves you stunned.
Watch the Trailer