After a canoe ride through the Arkansas bayou, which depicts a young couple's execution and offers a great variety of gradations in sunlight reflected on swamp water, Joseph Sargent gets down to business. Burt Reynolds in a prison colony receives the news, the dead man was his brother, the shady sheriff (Ned Beatty) is responsible -- the protagonist's introduction, escape and recapture before being recruited as an undercover agent in moonshine country are like a mini-film, and a fine one. The easygoing fable that follows places the foxy hillbilly avenger among hooch-runners and shoots the results through radiant natural light and Reynolds's scalawag grin. Steven Spielberg was the original director (pre-production studies can be detected in The Sugarland Express), but Sargent is no replacement hack. Filming on location is an art, and his use of life-worn camera material (a whisky refinery next to a pigsty, hymns heard from a church at dusk) is on par with Altman's in Thieves Like Us. A Renoirian feel for deep-focus nature: In one unbroken shot the camera pans with Matt Clark as he nervously paces his garage for a shotgun and finds children playing outside the window, in another Jennifer Billingsley cooks breakfast in a kitchen-porch surrounded by green expanses and with Reynolds swimming in the lake in the distance. Bo Hopkins, R.G. Armstrong, Louise Latham, and Diane Ladd are adroitly incorporated into a snapshot of a sweltering, not quite integrated, hippie-bashing New South; technique is kept on an even keel until the hero, licking his wounds like Yojimbo, is hit by a flash of clarity at a sanctuary for unwed mothers. As for the rest, there are auto chases constructed artfully enough to serve as models for Needham's Smokey and the Bandit as well as Hill's The Driver. With Conlan Carter, and Lincoln Demyan.
--- Fernando F. Croce