Movie Review #779: It can be slow, but more often than not, ‘Deliverance’ is very, very thrilling.

By Alexander Diminiano

Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Rated R (contains mature themes, depiction of sexual violence, disturbing content, profanity)
110 minutes

Much of “Deliverance” is just shots of guys canoeing down the river. It’s a visual metaphor. These guys are out canoeing and of course their purpose was to have fun. But they don’t, and they wind up in a situation that will haunt them, no matter how they take care of it. Sometimes, when we watch them canoeing for several minutes at a time, it can be rather boring, but at a certain point in the film, it becomes an effective tremolo. We realize that they’re not aimlessly boating, but canoeing toward whatever crisis will face them next.

Though “Deliverance” actually sets up on one single crisis, occurring about fifty minutes through: Two of the four man out canoeing are kidnapped by mountain men. One of them (Jon Voight) is tied to a tree and is forced to watch as the other is sodomized. Their two friends notice them in danger and get off their canoe to help. They end up shooting and killing one of the mountain men; the other one flees the scene. The predicament is placed when we least expect it in the movie and lasts about three minutes. There’s no scene quite as intense as the one I’m referring to in the rest of the film, but everything from there on out seems to become increasingly thrilling, because this very scene is where any and all danger roots.

“Deliverance” is a thought-provoking legal thriller disguised as a character drama. The last shot–a close up on Jon Voight–speaks so much. After all his talk about needing to be back at home with his wife and kids, all Voight’s character can think about once he is back at home is that his friend was raped, that he allowed his friend to murder the rapist, that that disposed of the body, and that he and his friends vowed not to say anything about any of this even when questioned. It brings about the question as to when Voight’s character would, at this point, rather live the rest of his life dwelling on all of this than have let himself die back when he was in captivity.

One of the best scenes here is the “Duelling Banjos” scene, which appears during the first ten minutes. “Deliverance” would be just as lost without this scene as it would be without the pivotal kidnapping scene. “Duelling Banjos” is an upbeat moment on its own, but it effectively establishes the haunting atmosphere that creeps through the remainder of the film. The music’s eerie effect can’t save what is occasionally a very slow movie, but it does make for an overall very thrilling movie. ✴


5 thoughts on “Deliverance

  1. What about the symbolism at the end (been years since I saw it) with the dead (?) hand above the level of the stream as if reaching —- for the canoers or for heaven ?
    What is the symbolism of the title?
    ‘Deliver us from evil’?

    We can discuss it this Friday at Duke where the motto
    in Latin is _______.


    • That’s a good idea for symbolism. I just assumed it was a cliché, since I’ve seen the same shot of the hand coming out of the water in other movies, as well, namely Friday the 13th (though that came later).

      According to Yahoo! Answers:

      “The title ‘Deliverance’ may relate to the deliverance (rescue) of the men from the horrors of rafting down the river or the deliverance of the men from the evil within themselves. ”

      Eruditio et Religio!

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