By Mike Gillis
The New York Times recently acknowledged the 40th anniversary this year of James Dickey’s novel “Deliverance,” a book that catapulted Dickey to fame. That celebrity was well deserved: Dickey’s novel leans on the linguistic mechanics of poetry, of which Dickey was a master, and weaves a brutal tale of four men who navigate away from the city to the backwoods of Appalachia for a respite, and, perhaps, a smattering of soul-searching. Instead, they stir up primal fear and death, and none leave the woods unchanged, if alive.
Dickey’s celebrity wrecked his family, according to a memoir he and his son, Christopher, penned, “The Summer of Deliverance.” It diluted his writing, too, he admits in the book.
It did, though, two years after its publication in 1970, lend itself to a rare phenomenon: a movie that rivals its source material. ...
Our familiarity with the men and the world, or what we think the world is in modern times, is what powers “Deliverance” -- the thin line between civilization and barbarism can be crossed quickly. On the other side of that line, the informed world is at the mercy of the fiends who ignore it.
Tackling that theme can easily fail, and Boorman seems to know this. His film, a horror film for sure, needs no special effects nor artificial music cues to signal his audience. The fear, anguish, anxiety and survival of four men are crystal clear. It’s on their faces and voices. That is what makes “Deliverance” a triumph of filmmaking and continues to earn it a place among movies still worth watching.