November 27, 2012

Filthy Review - 'Southern Comfort'

Southern Comfort (1981)

Review by Jude Felton

It was not until I was doing a little research for this review that I realized how many damned cool movies director Walter Hill was responsible for. Aside from movies such as The Warriors and 48 Hours, he also directed two of my all-time favorites; the macho man-fest Extreme Prejudice and the superb Western, The Long Riders, which is also another mans’ movie. With Southern Comfort he also crafted another incredibly masculine movie, Hell; Walter Hill put more testosterone into his films than your average frat party. These were men’s’ movies pure and simple. Like it or not, that is the truth.

With Southern Comfort, Hill took a truly fantastic cast, which included Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward and the late, great Brion James (with some phenomenal facial hair), and thrust them deep into the heart of the Louisiana swamps. A platoon of the National Guard are on a training exercise, with barely a clue between them, when they are confronted with an option of ‘borrowing’ some boats, in order to cross an expanse of water, or head back and start again.

Well, you know that they are going to takes the boats, with no real thought for their owners, and this is a decision that will backfire on the platoon quite dramatically. Whilst heading downstream, four locals make their way to the shore; it is then that one of the soldiers decides to mock the hapless Cajuns. This is a very bad movie indeed. So begins a fight for survival, as the soldiers must try to make their way back to camp whilst the infuriated locals begin to pick them off one by one.

Southern Comfort is very much the archetypal survival thriller, but there is far more to it than that. In fact, the Cajuns are very much background figures, leaving their traps to do most of the talking, instead we focus on the plight of the soldiers, their in-fighting and slowly deteriorating mental well-being. The film is as much a psychological thriller, as much as it is a visceral one. 

The violence is very real, but it is the psychological aspect that really brings the film to life.
Although set in modern day, well 1981 when it was filmed, the film does play out as a riff on the war in Vietnam, transposed to the equally inhospitable swamps of the south, as the soldiers impose themselves on land that is not theirs; they are the invaders and the Cajuns are just defending what is theirs.

As a movie for modern day audiences, some might find it a little slow-going in places but not I. The pacing is perfect for this film, and Hill builds the tension and slow self-destruct of the troops perfectly, and the last 10/15 minutes or so is an exercise in tension perfected.

Visually, Hill also makes wonderful use of the eerie locations, with the swamps having an almost ghostly look to them, and on Second Sight’s new release they look even better than I remember them to be. I watched the DVD version and it looked terrific, with only the odd occasion in which the picture looked a little dated. Add into this mix a truly terrific score from Ry Cooder and you have yourself the almost perfect survival thriller; this really is a cracking film, and Second Sight have once again delivered a really solid release.

On the extras front, Southern Comfort might not come as jam-packed with special features as some of their other releases, but the one extra they have included is a good one. Entitled Will he Live or Will he Die, it is a 45 minute interview with Walter Hill that is really interesting viewing.

If you have never seen Southern Comfort before, now is the perfect time to check out one of the great films of the 80s, and if you are already a fan, you will want to pick up this terrific new release of the film.

Southern Comfort is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Second Sight and was released on November 26th. (Please note: the DVD is listed as Region 2 and the Blu-ray is Region B, so check your hardware before ordering).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A manly movie to be sure but women should find the quiet machismo of a young and handsome Powers Boothe riveting. Kind of like Irish Spring, a manly scent but I like it too!