City folk Burt Reynolds (Louis), Jon Voight (Ed), Ronnie Cox (Drew) and Ned Beatty (Bobbie) take a canoe trip down a backwoods Georgia river which will soon be flooded out when a new dam is constructed.
The foursome hire some possibly-inbred hillbillies to drive their cars down to Aintry to be picked up later. Off they go downriver. They encounter small rapids, bugs, and then Ed and Bobby are assaulted by two unpleasant hillbillies. They make Bobbie drop his drawers and squeal like a pig, and tell Ed he has a "real purty mouth". Louis and Drew sneak up on them and kill one of the men as the other runs off.
This leads to a moral dilemma among the four canoers. Do they tell the cops? Do they bury the body and act innocent? They make a decision, and continue downstream. At one point going through some rapids, Drew falls overboard, apparently shot by the second hillbilly, and Louis breaks his leg. Bobby camps out with Louis as Ed climbs up a cliff to reconnoitre and ferret out the second man. Finally, they continue down to Aintry, where they recuperate, and are questioned about their experience.
The screenplay was written by James Dickey based on his book, and he has a small part as the sheriff who wonders what the men had been up to.
Good ensemble acting (probably Burt's best role), beautiful photography and locations, and a great story make this an impressive movie. Oscar nominations for director (John Boorman), picture and editing, and Golden Globe nominations for director, picture, actor (Voight), song ("Dueling Banjos") and screenplay. The reasonably-priced DVD has the R-rated full-screen and wide-screen format movie, a good documentary, English or French language and subtitles, Dolby sound, chapters, cast/crew/production notes, and a trailer.