In a squalid South American town, four men are paid to drive trucks loaded with nitroglycerin into the jungle through to the oil field. Friendships are tested and rivalries develop as they embark upon the perilous journey.
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Playing like an early high concept action-thriller, this is an unevenly expansive affair - notably in the extraneous first thirty minutes of ‘character’ setting for what largely remain stock types throughout - it nevertheless has some tense ‘what would I do in that situation’ reactive action sequences. The latter spurs of fatalism surprise, albeit realised as moral retribution for such unbridled greed and machismo.
It takes far too long and that ending is fatalism at its most unnecessary. But Clouzot's toxic sense of character still stings. "Pure suspense" nothing—this is a bitter, textured fuck-you to the world of 1953. Its setting isn't South America so much as a post-WWII purgatory, as different languages/accents mingle in a corporate-controlled desert where everyone wants to escape. Key line: "What's beyond it?" "Nothing."
The bias I bring to "Wages" is a healthy love for 1977's "Sorcerer," surely one of the finest films of director William Friedkin's career. Much like "Sorcerer," "Wages" isn't lacking in existential undertones or sweat-inducing sequences of suspense, but the lead-footed first hour and bafflingly wrongheaded ending hampered my enjoyment. In the end, "Wages" is a film that earns more of my respect than my affection.
What begins as a campy light-comedy quickly escalates into one of the most tense films I have seen. The best quality here is the stark cinematography and direction which perfectly emphasizes each small detail that means the difference between life and death. In general, I was amazed by its physicality and its representation of sheer destruction. However, the ending was unnecessary. It should have ended earlier.
A splendid sprawling suspense classic, a great film that deserves the hype. Nerve-wracking in all the best ways, with some tasty political commentary and surrealistic touches to make the nihilism go down.
The beginning is simply too long. Character development is great, but these characters aren't deep enough to warrant 40 minutes of buildup. Once it gets going, though, it's totally gripping. Until the ending, of course, which shallow and contrived as hell.
I believe that "Sorcerer" was better than "Wages of Fear" (and most other films), and I was almost alone in the 70s in thinking that, mainly because I was one of the very few people who actually saw "Sorcerer" in 1977 (twice in a row on opening night at the age of 14 to a mostly empty theatre), and now there are quite a few people who agree with me that its a cult classic, at the very least. Wages is great too.
This is such a brutal, depressing, nihilistic, and MANLY movie. Perhaps a bit too much so, and too long in places as well. But the suspense is excruciating, words can't even describe. And the atmosphere... you can feel the sweat on your back and smell the oil in the air!