In hopes of escaping city life, four friends set off to rural Georgia for an adventurous canoe trip. Despite the threatening aura of the local hillbilly boors, the beginning of the trip is idyllic. But all too soon they are ambushed and brutally attacked by two backwoods hicks. Their canoe trip turns into a battle against both man and elements.
“Deliverance”, directed by John Boorman, is a slow burning thriller/drama co-starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox. It’s all about manhood, conquering Mother Nature and threats posed by the lawless and uneducated population of the Southern United States.
It’s easy to see why Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 93%. It’s also understandable as to why many non-critics didn’t like it. It’s a bleak and hard to stomach tale. The ominous interaction with river town bumpkins captures the mood. Right away you know something bad is going to happen but you don’t know it’s going to be as bad as a rather realistic homosexual rape scene. Even by today’s standards it’s squeamish. The scene was filmed in one take because Ned Beatty, the victim of the scene, refused to participate in a second take.
Another infamous scene is a bit easier to stomach, but equally strange to watch. As our vacationers roll into the nearest town, a dusty pit of ramshackle wooden houses filled with inbred inhabitants, we find one talented, mentally vacant banjo player (Billy Redden). Ronny Cox’s character, with an acoustic guitar in hand, goes toe-to-toe with the teenager, setting up the eerie score for the whole movie.
The film’s portrayal of hillbilly Georgia brought an onslaught of stereotypes and parodies to follow. It was the first of its kind. Toothlessness, homosexual rape, bestiality and banjo plucking jokes have since became a major go-to when poking fun at the “Deep South”.
The pace of the film is slow but the story’s portrayal is rooted in realism. There isn’t a 50-man ambush with an arsenal of weapons. There’s two hicks with a shotgun. There isn’t a massive clearly unsurvivable waterfall. There’s the danger of inconspicuous rocky rapids.
Obstacle after obstacle, our main character (J0hn Voight) transforms from a shaky bowman to a steady handed hunter as he is faced with stalking the stalker in order to lead the other three men to safety.
Regardless of its slow pace and relatively straightforward plot “Deliverance” was a realistic portrayal of a canoe trip gone completely south. It really put the Southern United States on the map of creepiest places. The characters have their own distinct personalities and the stunts are quite impressive. “Deliverance” is not a feel-good film, but a grim look into what it means to be a man (1970s style).
“Deliverance” gets 8 Banjos out of 10 Hillbillies.