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Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio,
Max is an ex-con who's been saving money to open a car wash in Pittsburgh. Lionel is a sailor who's returning home to the midwest to see the child born while he was at sea. They form an unlikely pair as the brawling Max learns a little how Lionel copes with the world: Lionel believes that the scarecrow doesn't scare birds, but instead amuses them - birds find scare-crows funny. Written by
Gary Dickerson <email@example.com>
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unusual character study/road movie that could only be made in the 70s
Scarecrow is a low-key film that succeeds on all its ambitions, but not because it tries to aim low. That the tone at times doesn't feel as emotionally incredible or intense as some other films Gene Hackman and Al Pacino got their star-making turns in the 70s (French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico) doesn't mean it's unsuccessful either. Jerry Schatzberg and his writer are out to capture a kind of outsider view of men trying to find their places in society, almost like how Michael Cimino would do (to a more genre-oriented extent) with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. It's not a movie a lot of people would go out of their way to see, even with the star power involved. It's about two guys who've been released from confinement from the world around them, Max from six years in jail (Hackman), Francis from five years out at sea in the Navy (Pacino), and how the two meet up unintentionally while hitchhiking, unlikely pair up, and Hackman gets Pacino to go in with him on opening up a car wash in Pittsburgh.
Why Pittsburgh? Just one of the peculiarities of Max, mayhap? More-so a thing of pride. There's characteristics to Max and Francis that make them compelling for the honesty in what they are: Max is a tough guy, tending to get drunk, get in fights, sex it up with women (who knew Hackman had such, um, animal magnetism), and Francis (also named Lion by Max) is a clown, a little boy who somehow made the mistake of having a kid with a woman before he left the Navy, and has a present ready to give to the kid in Detroit- an androgynous lamp- despite not knowing entirely what to expect. It's an odd couple movie, but also one that has a more affecting view into a world of men on the fringe of society. These guys don't have big plans, and wouldn't want any anyway. It's refreshing to see that, and how it pans into the nature of them and their environment: the small towns, the local dives, the bad drunks, and, when things go bad after a big brawl during a drunken hoopla, the subtle horrors of prison for the both of them. Did I mention train-hopping?
A film like this, despite having on its side gorgeous cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond (who, along with Badlands and, in its own way Mean Streets, captures a vision of Americana that is pure and unique to its time and place), needs strong acting. Who better than Hackman and Pacino? They're playing big personalities, with Hackman doing great as always in a somewhat typical part of a guy who's aggressive and pig-headed but does have a hear. And Pacino doing a rare comedic turn as he gives some of his funniest (genuine, not unintentional scene-stealing) moments, like his 'diversion' gone wrong in the clothing store, or his classic "teach me how to handle a drunk" bit at the bar. Sometimes its too much, but it leads to a bittersweet side to the story that turns even more bitter by the time Schatzberg reaches the emotional climax in Detroit. What's been alternately crude and crazy, sometimes in ways that remind one a little of Altman, turns towards what is a small but great tragedy for these characters. And doing the script one better, the actors are able to get subtle, crushing, telling moments in scenes that others wouldn't be able to grasp with a ten-foot pole.
It's also a fun movie, with a feel that you could only get in one of the truly great years in all movies (look at the year this came out, and realize how many films of its ilk were released, be they independent-like from Scorsese or Altman or Ashby or even Romero, or even Friedkin's Exorcist). Scarecrow is of its time, but it doesn't mean it can't be greatly liked in the present; it's even a near classic of genre subversion, doing a service to drama and comedy by not paying lip-service to either form, but enriching what comes naturally out of life, which is both sometimes, harrowingly, at once. 9.5/10
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