A taut little adventure saga/morality tale that takes its inspiration from the notorious real-life hijacking committed by D.B. Cooper, this excellent telefilm is something of a Northwestern riff on John Huston’s immortal drama The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Like that film, Deliver Us from Evil depicts the corrosive power of greed and uses a battle against nature as a metaphor representing the extremes to which men will go once the promise of wealth overcomes morality and reason.
Set in the beautiful but unforgiving mountains of Wyoming, Deliver Us from Evil begins quietly, with five friends hiking through the woods, lead by professional guide Dixie (Jim Davis). The men are Al (Jack Weston), an overweight whiner; Arnold (Charles Aidman), a quiet blue-collar worker in late middle age; Steven (Bradford Dillman), a twitchy CPA; Nick (Jan-Michael Vincent), Arnold’s twentysomething son, reeling from a recent divorce; and Walter (George Kennedy), a macho blowhard who fancies himself an outdoorsman and wears a pistol on his belt. While setting up camp one afternoon, Walter spots a parachutist dropping behind a treeline not far from the group’s location. Soon afterward, the men hear a radio broadcast indicating that a D.B. Cooper-like skyjacker escaped by parachute in the same part of Wyoming where the men are camping. Walter persuades the others to join him in chasing the alleged criminal. Once they find their quarry, a trigger-happy Walter kills the parachutist.
After a stomach-churning interlude during which the men fear that Walter killed an innocent man, they discover the hijacker’s stolen loot—$600,000 in cash. At first, the group reacts to the discovery with good citizenship, securing the money for a hike back to civilization so they can return the cash to its rightful owners. Yet it’s not long before the lust for wealth invades the hearts of even the noblest members of this crew, so, as the men make their way across cliffs, mountains, and finally a glacier, they turn on each other.
The incisive script by Jack B. Sowards sketches each character distinctly and then generates believable conflicts through a steady process of escalation. For instance, immediately after the shooting of the hijacker, highly principled Dixie pushes the men to travel as fast as they can, since he knows it’s only a matter of time before someone hatches the idea to keep the cash. Similarly, the dynamic between kindhearted Arnold and his tormented son shifts from nurturing to tragic in a way that makes perfect sense. The script also captures a highly credible sense of the bone-deep weariness that comes from punching a clock year after a year—rather than seeming like opportunistic crooks, these characters seem like average joes who lose their minds after winning the lottery. Powered by crisp dialogue, panoramic images of wide-open scenery, and strong performances from an eclectic cast, Deliver Us from Evil unfolds like a harrowing fable.
Deliver Us from Evil: GROOVY