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A squad of National Guards on an isolated weekend exercise in the Louisiana swamp must fight for their lives when they anger local Cajuns by stealing their canoes. Without live ammunition and in a strange country, their experience begins to mirror the Vietnam experience. Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
Four of them with automatic weapons against some swamp rat. I make it even money.
Southern Comfort is directed by Walter Hill who also co-writes the screenplay with Michael Kane and David Giler. It stars Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward, Franklyn Seales, T.K. Carter, Lewis Smith, Les Lannom, Peter Coyote and Carlos Brown. Music is scored by Ry Cooder and cinematography by Andrew Laszlo.
1973 and nine Louisiana National Guardsmen head into the bayous on a routine training mission but become lost. Taking some moored canoes to cross a river, leaving a note of explanation, they find that within a short space of time they are in a fight for their lives against a Cajun foe whose territory they are now completely at the mercy of.
The comparisons to Deliverance are obvious and fair, the metaphor for Vietnam, too, is rightly associated to Walter Hill's movie, but it's a good enough picture across the board to stand proudly on its own two feet. Southern Comfort is expert film making, where it's both a taut action suspense film and an exercise in arresting visuals. Narratively as well the film is always strong, where the group dynamic of uniformed men trying to survive in a hostile environment, is tossed about like a rag doll amongst the swampy bayous of Louisiana.
As evidenced by much of his CV, Hill is a master of action choreography, and Southern Comfort finds him on top form. Be it mano-mano fights or flighty pursuits, he pulls the viewer into those swamps to feel it as it is. Set almost bleakly to a back drop of murky greys and greens, with Laszlo's photography suitably monochrome and misty, the mood is often one of disquiet, even as the film reaches the last quarter to be played out in a Cajun village, the men, and us, never feel safe, it's consistently a Hillbilly Hell. The pursuers are barely glimpsed, where Hill wisely sets them up as phantoms in the forests, predators who hold all the aces against their hopelessly out of their depth prey.
The ensemble cast are impressive, led in uniform by Carradine, Boothe and Ward, with scuzzy trapper support coming from Mr. Reliable himself, Brion James. While one of the "hunters" is played by Sonny Landham, and everyone knows that he is one tough old boy you don't mess with! Setting, themes and story are boosted no end by Ry Cooder's evocative score, where his unusual flecks of Cajun flavours pings about the swamps like an aural firefly. Big bonus is the use of traditional Cajun music for the village sequences, Parlez Nous a Boire is performed with gusto and a genuine love of drinking! Here, too, we are treated to some traditional Cajun dancing, and Hill leaves us in no doubt that not all Cajun's are murdering hicks.
It stops short of being a masterpiece because there's some adherence to action movie formula, and one (literally) explosive scene makes no sense at all. Regardless, this is one of the better male based action movies out there, crafted by a seriously talented and under valued director. 9/10
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