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USA 1978
Directed by
Alan J. Pakula
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Comes A Horseman

Alan J. Pakula is not a director one associates with Westerns and Comes A Horseman is indeed an unusual Western in its old-fashionedness. Set in the mid-1940s in picturesque Marlboro country Montana, it pits ruthless cattle boss (Jason Robards) against fiesty small rancher (Jane Fonda) along with her old farm-hand (Richard Farnsworth, who was nominated for an Academy Award) and her neighbour and eventual partner (James Caan).

Pakula opts for a slow moving unfolding of the story presumably to suggest the slowness of the lifestyle and to bring home the timelessness of the land over the short-term venal interests of capital, a contrast and conflict which represents the larger themes of the film and partly drives the narrative.

More problematically, Pakula applies a persistent laconicism to this same narrative, only sketching in the story line (the final table-turning "showdown" is almost completely dismissed) whilst the sound design seems to bury the already strongly accented dialogue so that it is difficult to understand what anyone is saying should you be trying to grasp said story line. Whilst it may be difficult to reconcile oneself to the classical form of the movie, complete with round-up, branding and second unit stampede it is beautifully photographed by Gordon Willis and Jane Fonda, one of the few Hollywood A-list women who could step outside their glamorous image to portray real people, gives an effective performance as a hard-hearted Hannah who warms to the sun of her neighbour's good-heartedness (a winning performance from and if unlikely-cast Caan).

FYI: Ms Fonda who won the Best Actress Oscar that year for her performance in Coming Home, had won it in 1971 for Klute which had been directed by Pakula.




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