Four Atlanta businessmen, Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Ed (Jon Voight), Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Drew (Ronny Cox), decide to canoe down a river in the remote North Georgian wilderness, expecting to have fun and see the glory of nature before the fictional Cahulawassee River valley is flooded by the construction of a dam. Lewis, an experienced outdoorsman, is the leader. Ed is also a veteran of several trips but lacks Lewis’s machismo. Bobby and Drew are novices.
The four are clearly the outsiders in this rural location. The crude locals are unimpressed by the “city boys”; it is also implied that some of the locals are inbred and educationally subnormal. While attempting to secure drivers for their vehicles (to be delivered to the takeout point), Drew briefly connects with a local banjo-playing boy by joining him in an impromptu bluegrass jam by playing Dueling Banjos. When they finish, however, the boy turns away without saying anything, refusing the effusive Drew’s handshake. The four men exhibit a slightly condescending attitude toward the locals; Bobby, in particular, is very patronizing and even derides the locals to his companions for seeming to display genetic defects.