Danvers Mail

Action and Romance Blend in Swampy Saga



Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Year Released: 1976, 2023 Kino Lorber Blu-ray
Runtime: 1h 55m
Director(s): Burt Reynolds
Writer(s): William W. Norton, Roderick Taylor
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Lauren Hutton, Jerry Reed, Jack Weston, Dub Taylor, Alice Ghostley, Burton Gilliam, Mike Douglas
Where To Watch: available November 21, 2023; pre-order here www.kinolorber.com, or www.amazon.com

RAVING REVIEW: GATOR marks a notable return for Burt Reynolds, who leads the cast and directs behind the camera. Set in a Southern landscape that's both rugged and picturesque, the film blends high-octane action with a story of complicated romance and deep drama. Reynolds brings his characteristic charm to Gator McKlusky, a character entrenched in the dangerous world of moonshine trafficking.

In GATOR, McKlusky finds himself back in the thick of moonshining after his adventures in WHITE LIGHTNING. His mission, assigned by law enforcement, is to dismantle the criminal empire of his former comrade, Bama McCall. Jerry Reed's portrayal of McCall adds a spark of dynamism, creating tension alongside Reynolds. Their back and forth onscreen adds another layer to the film; something is at stake here. McCall and Reynolds feel they have a history, not just portraying roles on screen.

While stitching together threads of romance, action, and drama, the film encounters some turbulence with its pacing and execution. Reynolds, balancing his roles in front and behind the lens, imbues Gator with a compelling presence, though the strain of his directorial duties occasionally shows. It would have been interesting to see his role if he was a co-director instead of sole directorial duties on his plate.

The supporting cast, including Jack Weston and William Engesser, enhances the film's depth, while Lauren Hutton, as Aggie Maybank, adds a complex romantic angle. Yet, the romance subplot, though pivotal, feels somewhat underdeveloped and needs more natural chemistry to engage fully. I wonder if the film was edited down from a more extended cut; it feels like more pieces to this story should be included.

The film's high point is undoubtedly its action sequences. The boat chase scenes, a direct nod to Reynolds' stuntman past, pulse with authenticity and excitement. These moments capture the film's essence, offering a captivating display of stunt work that leverages the swampy locale to full effect. The best part was that it felt so natural and not forced at any point.

GATOR's depiction of Southern culture and lifestyle adds a layer of authenticity, though it wades into sensitive waters with its approach to themes like racism and misogyny. While aiming for humor and satire, these elements might be off-putting to contemporary audiences, feeling outdated and insensitively handled; this was every bit a product of its time.

Despite these hiccups, the film exudes a certain charm. The soundtrack, highlighted by Jerry Reed's catchy theme, brings an unmistakable Southern vibe. The cinematography effectively portrays the South's unique landscape, contributing significantly to the film's atmosphere.

Summarizing, GATOR is a mixed bag of cinematic elements. It showcases Burt Reynolds' versatility as both an actor and a director in the making. Fans of Reynolds and action-packed sequences will find elements to appreciate. Still, the film's constrained narrative reach and uneven execution may only partially resonate with those seeking a more cohesive and polished cinematic journey. Together with WHITE LIGHTNING, the films make for an adventurous double feature.

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[photo courtesy of KINO LORBER]