(1977)3.5Michael CostelloThe decline of William Friedkin's career, one of the most dramatic of the past three decades, began with the box-office failure of this unjustly neglected thriller. Inspired by Clouzot's masterful Wages of Fear, the film tells the story of four amoral men trapped by fate in a godforsaken Nicaraguan town. Nearly broke, they accept an oil company's offer to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerine over treacherous roads for 10,000 dollars apiece. Friedkin dropped the existential overtones of the Clouzot film, which insisted on the characters' basic isolation, and instead, emphasized the way in which these four very different men, united only by their criminality, must overcome their worst instincts and work together to survive. The tension never slackens in the carefully paced thriller, which is made even more gripping by the kind of realism that the former documentarian brought to films like The French Connection (1971) and To Live and Die in L.A. (1984). All of the actors are solid in parts with limited character development, and the film is beautifully shot. Aside from its misleading title, to which many have attributed its failure, it may be that like To Live and Die in L.A., audiences found it difficult to sympathize with the unsavory characters.