From the director of The Long Riders comes this eye-widening, gut-wrenching tale of backwoods terror that draws you into the eerily beautiful Louisiana bayou...then has you running for your life (Pauline Kael, New Yorker... more »)! Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe and Peter Coyote lead a first-rate ensemble (Newsweek) in this exciting, arresting and tautly told suspenser (Variety). When nine National Guardsmen enter the Louisiana swamp for routine training, they are unaware that just a handful of their ranks will make it out alive. Through an error in judgment, they incite an all-out war with some angry Cajuns who know the territory like the backs of their hands. Armed with a precious few bullets, and confused by the dimly lit, moss-covered maze into which they ve stumbled, the innocent guardsmen know they'll be picked off one-by-one...until they come up with a solution using the only resources they have left'themselves.« less
Barron Laycock | Temple, New Hampshire United States | 10/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This tautly-told tale of the explosive mix of subcultures under extreme conditions is a gem seldom discussed in movie circles, but is indeed a near-cult favorite of Vietnam vets who recognize the allegorical message of its gritty and ironic twists of plot associated with the casual and almost nonchalant attitudes of several Louisiana National Guard reservists off on a weekend military exercise during the early 1970s in the foreboding and eerie bayou country. Famed action director Walter Hill wastes little time in setting the dilemma into motion, and by disobeying orders and "improvising" a way across a large river by "borrowing" some Cajun moon-shiners' boats, the squad soon finds itself engaged in escalating misunderstanding and quite plausible sequences of violence, murder, and mayhem. For anyone ever in the military of that era, it is a profoundly accurate depiction of just how easily disorganized, untrained, and undisciplined troops who are poorly indoctrinated and even more poorly led can find itself disastrously out of control under circumstances they can no longer positively influence. Moreover, left to their own devices,and slowly decimated through casualties inflicted by their erstwile opponents, they unnecessarily and fatefully add to their own predicament by taking action that makes their predicament much worse. They also find, to their horror, that relatively untrained civilians with guns and attitude can be formidable opponents. The stealth, familiarity with the terrain, and downright viciousness employed by the local Cajun moon-shiners makes this a captivating study in how slender are the threads that binds us together in a large and pluralistic society such as ours. Speaking of terrain, the way in which Hill uses the topography and atmosphere of the swamps and savannas of the bayou make it an essential and unpredictable aspect to their efforts to extricate themselves from this background of madness. In what is perhaps the best-delivered performance of his many-faceted career, Powers Boothe provides a rational coda to the irrational aggression swirling around him as Hardin, a white collared and college educated trooper who has only recently joined the unit, and whose efforts to corral the others that he characterizes as rednecks, into a more cohesive fighting force finally work to their advantage. Fred Ward is also excellent here, as is Keith Carradine, Peter Coyote, and Alan Autry, who later gained fame as the resident stud-muffin southern boy featured in the TV series version of "Heat Of The Night". Also an essential ingredient in delivering a movie with a knockout punch is Ry Cooder's haunting score, which provides a wonderful mix of southern twang and Cajun chords in accompanying this extremely well told tale. For anyone interested in an allegorical approach to our Vietnam troubles told interestingly and provocatively, I can highly recommend the movie, and am glad it is finally out in DVD. Enjoy!"
... and not a label in sight
Peter Shelley | Sydney, New South Wales Australia | 02/11/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Director Walter Hill's 1981 action drama has a horror movie mentality. When a group of weekend service members of the Louisiana National Guard venture into bayou country on training maneuvers, a misunderstanding leads to them being stalked and methodically hunted down by local Cajuns. However the screenplay which Hill co-wrote with Michael Kane and the producer David Giler, provides more depth and character interplay than something like Scream where the killings are all there is. Another definite plus is the soundtrack, where silence is employed during the attacks. This is both a superior aesthetic choice and a contextual one since the main locale is the lonely mythic swampland, stark in it's beauty and primordial terror. The fact that the attacks take place in daylight is another subversion of the horror genre, though the Cajuns function on the same level as a generic stalker, seen out of the corner of one's eye and possessing greater agility than those they hunt. Of course it helps that the swamps are the Cajun's home turf since this makes the Guardsmen more vulnerable. Hill never telegraphs the next death so that the viewer carries a constant feeling of dread. The swampland being so beautiful and the savagery of the killings also recalls the irony of the murders at Auschwitz, which was said to be gorgeous countryside. Hill perhaps overplays his Vietnam parable when he presents one man going to his death in slow motion, in an attempt to enoble someone whose leadership the others have criticised for trying to stick to the manual. But considering that the narrative is set in 1973, it is interesting to interpret the assault on the Guardsmen as anti-military, a point made when the surviving men make it to a Cajun camp, and the expected relief of civilisation turns to continued paranoia. It's not only that the Cajuns only speak French that sets them apart. Early in the film Hill overlaps a pan of the men's discussion of what to do with the vertical sight of them walking, an unusual representation of thought via editing. Sometimes these continuous discussions are disappointingly reductive, no matter how true to life they seem, but occasionally they provide a gem eg. When it is said to a black man that the Cajuns fear "niggers" as bad luck, the black man replies with "They may be right. I've been hanging around with niggers all my life and I haven't had a break yet". The line is funny, probably more so because it comes from a black man, and also prophetic. The ending is a problem. As Pauline Kael says in her review of the film in her collection Taking It All In, it brings you up short. It's too abrupt and ambiguous, but this is ultimately a trifle considering the care Hill has taken and his "dazzling competence" (Kael) we have been witness to."
Southern-Fried Film Noir
Kurt Harding | Boerne TX | 09/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film came out just as I was finishing a six-year stint with the Louisiana National Guard, so I eagerly went to see it soon after its release. I enjoyed it so much then that I bought a copy on DVD when reminded of it after I bought "Deliverance". Though there are surface similarities, Southern Comfort is not Deliverance Louisiana-style, though it may have attracted much the same viewers. I won't rehash the story to a great extent, but I want to point out a few errors in the film before singing its hosannahs. First of all, if the Guard unit started its exercise in the Catahoula swamp and was supposed to pass through the Great Dismal Swamp (they called it the Great Primordial Swamp in the film) to a rendezvous with another unit, there would have been precious few Cajuns as those swamps are north of the Red River. Most Cajuns live south of that river and west of the Mississippi. Secondly, the interstate which "Casper" kept referring to would have been Interstate 20, 100 miles to the north and they'd have crossed many other roads before that. The type of swamp the unit was in would be far more likely south of Interstate 10, 100 miles to the south of where the movie placed them. Finally, there would probably have been at least a couple of the troops who could speak Cajun French. My unit, based at Pineville LA, had a good mix of North Louisiana "rednecks" as Cajuns referred to them and South Louisiana "coon-asses" as the Cajuns called themselves. A lot of the Cajun guys were fluent in Cajun French. As for the troopers themselves, we did have one guy in our unit reminiscent of the wild-eyed punk in the film who got the real trouble started by firing blanks at the Cajun trappers, but beyond that they were a decent bunch of men and women. With that straightened out, lets talk about the movie. This is a great story about men under stress, how they interact and how they respond to fear. Some keep their heads, some snivel and whine, while others go berserk. You have prototypes of all three in this film. Texas Guard transferee Powers Boothe is the most level-headed of the group, you somehow know that he is going to make it. The Cajuns themselves are shown as pretty one-dimensional characters until the end, but that's because these particular Cajuns live life in the shadows and are involved in many activities of questionable legality. Only at the end, when Boothe and Carradine seemingly have saved themselves and find themselves in the middle of a real Mardi Gras, is the fun-loving devil may care side of the Cajun soul bared. That one-armed Cajun trapper who was captured and tortured by the guardsmen spared Boothe and Carradine near the end and gave them directions out of the swamp, but probably only because Boothe had saved him from further torture and he recognised that both guardsmen were essentially decent men. But, as the trapper warns them, the others are not as nice as he is. Apart from the unlikely storyline itself, you will be transfixed by this Southern-Fried Film Noir. You have people from the outside world pitted against an insular and seemingly peculiar minority. You have the unrelenting gloom of the setting, whether it be in the swamp and all its clues of impending doom, or at the bayou-side Mardi Gras with all sinister symbolism that keeps up the suspense and the viewer on edge. The dark and gloomy atmosphere is sustained by the brooding and mysterious soundtrack by Ry Cooder. I heartily recommend Southern Comfort to anyone who enjoys dark action films, to those for whom the swamps of Louisiana stir a mixture of curiosity and dread, and for anyone who has not been to backwoods Louisiana who might like to see what a real Cajun party sans tourists may be like."
What We Have Here Is a Problem of Communication
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 09/22/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A company of semi-red neck Louisiana National Guardsmen are on weekend maneuvers in Cajun swamp land. They need to use a map to work their way out of the swamp. Leadership is weak, they bicker among themselves...and they lose the map. So they can struggle back the way they came, or steal some canoes from a Cajun fishing camp and make it easier for themselves. They make the mistake of taking the canoes. Then one of them for a joke fires blanks at a Cajun. Well, he fires back and there's one less National Guardsman.
The Cajuns, some of whom look like they might be second cousins to the backwoods guys in Deliverance, figure they'd better get them all. The National Guardsmen figure they'd better get out as fast as they can. They stick together but its pretty much every man for himself. They're in the middle of a swamp, and have to deal with quicksand, vicious dogs, bear traps, and psycho Cajuns with guns. Maybe I forgot to mention, they have almost no live ammo themselves.
Eventually only Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe make it to a small Cajun village. They think they're safe and can get help. The Cajuns are having a celebration with fiddle music and dancing and pots of gumbo. Then Carradine and Boothe notice that some of the men are among those who were after them. They make it, but barely.
This is a tight, well made movie that's engrossing. It's worth getting, with good performances by the two leads. Only thing to remember, if you've spent any time in Louisiana's small Cajun towns you'll know the people are a lot friendler than some in this movie.
Ry Cooder is down for the score. He as much as anyone was responsible for bringing the musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club to prominence and getting that movie made. Great movie, great DVD, great CD.
And for fans of Viet Nam war films, some people think this was one of the indirect anti-war movies being made around then...U.S. soldiers lost in a dangerous quagmire and being killed for misjudgements and mistakes.
At any rate, it's a good movie that's held up well. The DVD transfer is better than average."
One of the Greats.
scannerb2 | Suffolk, NY | 11/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Yes. You heard me: Greats. Let's face it. The best movies ever made are the ones where the few, little guys are running from the many, big guys. Don't believe me...."Southern Comfort" is such a movie. Awesome landscapes, acting and superb violence. Not the kind where people get shot up everywhere, but hand to hand combact, running for your life. But the movie never stops. Just when you think they made it safely to a road, guess what? They're going to a party! Seriously folks, great DVD."