52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
One of the greatest thrillers ever - but only the Criterion 2-disc set is worth buying!,
This review is from: Criterion Collection: Wages of Fear [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
We can thank the Movie Gods that Jean Gabin didn't want to play a coward or else we'd never have had Charles Vanel's superb performance in Clouzot's The Wages of Fear: it's notable that Friedkin's intriguingly feverish but suspense-free remake didn't even attempt to give its equivalent deadbeat killer a similar arc, despite the fact that the character and his curious shifting relationship with Yves Montand cuts to the very core of the story's take on the nature of courage, bravado and machismo. At the beginning of the film Vanel is the tough guy who can walk the walk, while Montand is his puppy doggish sidekick, throwing over his best friend for his new crush until his feet of clay are revealed when the chips are down. Even in a place where, in the absence of white women the white men cling to each other, this relationship seems to go a few steps beyond mere hero-worship, but when they hit the road the power in the relationship shifts, and in the process we get to watch Yves Montand become a genuine movie star before our very eyes, which is almost as exciting as the road trip to Hell with a truckload of unstable nitro and miles of very, very bumpy roads. Almost, because I doubt there's anything to beat the film's extraordinary double-jeopardy sequence on a rotting platform on a mountain road - a scene pretty much done for real - which takes your breath away until you suddenly realize that the second truck is going to have to do the same thing in even worse conditions... I remember when I saw that at a revival house a couple of years ago I genuinely forgot to breathe during that sequence, and found myself doing the same even on DVD.
Criterion's recent 2-disc DVD is a great improvement on their previous single-disc version in terms of picture quality and extras, but sadly, the `new and improved' subtitle translation is just as politically correct as the old one, dropping most of the obscenities and all of the racist language that's an important part of the hatred and self-loathing that drives the characters to risk everything for a chance for a ticket out of this backwater South American hellhole (amazingly recreated in the Carmargue in France because Montand refused to film in Fascist Spain). The shoot may have been jinxed by delays, accidents and colossal budget overruns, but damn, it was worth it.
A word of warning - aside from Criterion's recent 2-disc NTSC version, the UK PAL versions of the film are all very poor quality (especially Optimum's poor UK standards conversion copy) and are to be avoided.