Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

The Wages Of Fear(1953) Directed By Henri-Georges Clouzot

I was nauseous by the end of this, snail's pace suspense thriller, about four day laborers from different countries in Europe, are hired, by US Oil companies to take two trucks full of nitroglycerin to a remote oil pipe line location.The chose day laborer's because they didn’t have the time to properly outfit the trucks, to make it safe to transport the explosives, and day laborers, specifically these men, are expendable without families, unions, etc.The film doesn’t start with this scenario though; the first hour is about a small Central American town full of workers, ex-patriots, opportunists, and the local villagers, who blend together in a mix of Polish, Italian, French, well one Frenchmen. Things begin to change when a second older Frenchmen shows up, and the two form a based on shared heritage, shared poverty, shared desire to do anything to escape, and shared insistence on appearing at all times in charge and in control. The younger man begins spurning his roommate, girlfriend, and the town in general sticking to the older man like a lap dog. The older man barks big, but none of his connections and get-rich-quick schemes ever pan out, so he ends up sitting at the local bar like all the other out of work ex-pats.Then the nitro-truck job comes around and it's uncertain about what horrible he things the old man has to do to get the gig, but he does. And then the action begins.Driving at ten, twenty, upwards of thirty miles per hour, sometimes slower sometimes faster depending on speed bumps, cracks, hills, cliffs, and dips, all of which could cause the cargo to explode with even the slightest jostle.The camera reserves itself largely to the driver’s seat, with an occasional close up on tires, roads, and sweat drops on foreheads.Before long personalities began to change and "the wages of fear", prove costly. The driver's begin cracking under the mounting pressure and suicidal nature of their task. Think about the stress of "The Hurt Locker", with a days notice in advance. Henri-Georges Clouzot takes on a scenic highway, of high pressure, exploitation, crumbling nerves, tragic heroism, and cowardice.It's one of the most original and well executed action films, I’ve ever seen. The ending is the one reason this isn’t a full 5 stars, as it feels tacked on at best. I get the impression Clouzot felt the film needed a tragic ending, to drive it's political points about oil, greed, and class struggle, but the rest of the film was driving itself so well, it feels literally like the wheel is suddenly jerked out from under you. In any event, I highly recommend this one to everyone. Have patience early on, the first hour is the equivalent of the mission impossible opening sequence fuse, burning down the wick toward the gut-wrenching second half. Now I’m dizzy...

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