Southern Comfort (Walter Hill / U.S., 1981):

Walter Hill gives machismo, and he takes it away -- the material is rigorously laid for maximum satirical consequences, propped by the early sight of a platoon of National Guardsmen shooting blanks right at the lenses, with people and vehicles ambling casually in front of them and the phantom of Vietnam hovering behind them. Louisiana in 1973 is the setting, sergeant Peter Coyote rounds up a group of grunts for exercises in the swamps; the men are in a rush to be done for the poon promised by Keith Carradine, and in their imbecilic haste pinch canoes belonging to the locals. Somebody fires as a jest, the Cajuns shoot back with real bullets, and the hunt is on. Les Lannom is in shaky command, chief hothead Fred Ward is the only one with live ammo, Alan Autry paints a red cross on his chest and utters a prophetic idiocy ("Mission accomplished") before detonating a trapper's shed. Leadership falls to Carradine and Powers Boothe as the men are picked off by the unseen enemy, though the moral trauma of the situation is voiced by Franklyn Seales, who, faced with internal menace, can only cry "I'm not supposed to be here!" The Lost Patrol is the cornerstone, Swamp Water is quoted at least twice, the sound design (the cackle of birds, the thwack of a trap) rivals Bu˝uel's in Death in the Garden -- Hill paints the bayou with overlapping dissolves and lateral tracks, a masterful study in greens and grays that refreshes the eye in every frame. Carradine and Boothe make it out of the marsh, but their macho armors have been cracked and the paranoia within pours into the Cajun hamlet that receives them with festivities and ominous montage. Boorman left Deliverance suspended in a bad dream, Hill ends it by accelerating the horror of ingrown anxiety, disorientated yet elated at the strangeness at the heart of one's own country. Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo. With T.K. Carter, Lewis Smith and Brion James.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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