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Deliverance (1972) Review

I think it goes without saying that you should never canoe through dangerous waters. Whether or not that danger is the water itself or the inhabitants that surround the water, you’re best off just staying away from small bodies of water. That does include rivers, bathtubs, oceans and water bottles, but unlike the leading group we find ourselves saddled with in Deliverance, I don’t like to take chances. Deliverance looks to showcase the disasters at hand when four friends decide to take a weekend break traversing a small river that will soon cease to be when a dam is built, cutting off the water supply and thus making the river completely dry. 

With stars such as Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds accompanying us throughout the John Boorman directed piece, and I can’t imagine anyone better to take us through these violent waves than the pairing of Voight, Reynolds and Boorman. Accompanied by Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, we find ourselves traversing dangerous territory without really knowing it. Much of the tension of Deliverance comes from destitution. Characters who depend on the river and wish to be left alone by the outside world are thrust headfirst into it, and the charming lead performances of Voight and Reynolds create conflict within a local group that wish to be left alone. 

You can see why they’d like to be left alone, but the way these groups are presented makes it certainly difficult to connect with them on any real, emotional level. Even the group we follow are a real struggle to connect with at times. The chemistry between the four of them is more than enough to distinguish themselves as likeable, but they lack a certain appeal or interest, none of them really have much of a motif or care for their wellbeing, or at least that’s what it seems like. The fight to survive that features so prominently throughout is lukewarm at best, often depending on the strong performances which cultivate a somewhat lacking script. 

Boorman’s direction is effective enough, and paired with these engaging performances, Deliverance just about gets by. We can blame the powers of popular culture for holding Deliverance up on a pedestal much higher than it really deserves, its one memorable scene being one that was shocking at the time, but doesn’t have nearly as much an impact as some of the lesser spoken of scenes throughout the movie. Cox in particular, who has a great supporting performance, gives off some of the greatest scenes to come from the film, and it’s a real shame nobody really talks of them that much. 

Not as big a spectacle as I was hoping it would be, yet a film that is competently crafted and performed. Deliverance shows potential with its cast of characters and premise, yet doesn’t have the heart or writing know-how to follow through with a potentially incredible storytelling experience, essentially relying on the disgust we feel for groups that are not central to the plot, rather than the terrors that could await four friends who look to seek a holiday. Untapped potential around every corner, it’s more frustrating than anything else.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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