The Wages of Fear

the wages of fear
The wages of fear
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It needs to be made clear from the beginning that the original The Wages of Fear is one of the most fantastic thrillers ever created. Thus, this outstanding 1953 film directed and co-written by Henri-Georges Clouzot has long stayed in our minds because it has an incredible craftsmanship, gradual rhythm, fine playing, sometimes wonderful pictures and a final emotional blow. It follows a group of desperate men who try driving two trucks loaded with nitroglycerin across a vast desert full of dangerous roads. It is better you do that instead of watching what this new Netflix remake is about.

It was weird enough when people tried to go back to the classic film over seventy years later even before this new version arrived. Well now that we’ve seen how it turned out, it’s worse than we ever could have imagined. That word “product” seems particularly fitting for this new The Wages of Fear as it feels like something that would fit right in on Netflix with all the other “content” someone will forget the moment after they finish it. But while the original remained artful yet entertainingly made at once, this iteration simply amounts to nothing but an empty thunderously dumb imitation action flick devoid anything cool about thrilling or tense movie hence it falls flat on its face.

What Does ‘The Wages of Fear’ Mean?

Julien Leclercq directs this film which takes elements from the original and makes them worse throughout. This was done ostensibly for more action but even that didn’t happen. At its heart are brothers Fred (Franck Gastambide) and Alex (Alban Lenoir), whose background is revealed through some patchy flashbacks involving their participation in a rather vaguely drawn coup d’état. In fact, he ended up in prison while trying to execute his brother’s plot – namely robbing something on a small scale using explosives during his escape amidst the power vacuum caused by the coup. Now, Fred lives with Alex’s family who remain nameless throughout the entire movie and he must survive.

Nevertheless, when a calamity occurs in an oil well located precariously close to a refugee camp in an unnamed desert nation both of them inhabit there, they are given a contract by the company to drive two trucks containing nitroglycerin safely there to explode it. They’ll have 20 hours and will be joined by such superficial characters as Fred’s lover Clara (Ana Girardot) who will help them chart their path. In addition, raiders will get in their way, minefields will need navigating and all that film can do is drag itself along merrily until it finally explodes empty.

However, even coming close to the original which in itself was an adaptation of a novel and this unlikely remake just about misses its mark by miles. The action is far from exciting because it revolves around occasional shootouts that are randomly interposed with forced hand to hand combat scenes. Instead what you see are characters barely touching their foes as the entire thing is shot and edited such that one never finds themselves fully engaged in it. You would expect these moments to be tense but rather they turn out to be half-hearted fights where each character has to deal with a cliché enemy. Yet we never sense this growing anxiety at any point during the film when there are numerous times where bullets almost hit explosive materials inside trucks at the back, thus causing tension rise in the case of an old classic film that made us feel that way all along. As if not enough, casting cannot save these scenes from becoming nothing more than plain boring.

Everything feels flat as Gastambide’s hard look on his face remains constant throughout every scene. And yet it should produce some reaction beyond emptiness but no, it doesn’t happen here. This storyline ends up being spoiled due to a lackluster performance which appears similar to other mundane parts in the whole movie, only a few seconds before climaxing. Even when faced by death itself one will still observe how all of them were mere actors playing roles in this film instead of real people leaving on borrowed time. It seems dry since it takes the very outline of an already perfect movie and removes everything that made it good.

It becomes particularly obvious during those instances when the remake tries recreating some of the original’s most crucially moving moments. Two examples here are when they have to explode a boulder and also passing through an oil pit; both cases have been handled quite poorly though. In contrast with building up suspense throughout Clouzot’s film, this new version merely inserts them without grasping why they were thrilling in the first place. It is difficult to term them as homages, rather instances of stealing and degradation that are nonetheless seen as closer to their origins.

This is however, its biggest mistake because it shows how inert and far away from the original scenes this movie really is. Here you can see a sort of abyss which opens up before us showing Clouzot’s film on the one hand and this one sinking deeper and deeper into darkness. You could not be happier when it eventually hits rock bottom.

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