Alan J. Pakula's opening shots bring to mind Ford's words to the young Spielberg, about directing really boiling down to understanding when to put the horizon high and when to put it low in the frame. The project may be couched in its maker's reverence for Shane, but it also derives from a small detail in The Parallax View, the brawl in the Western-styled lodge set to "Buttons 'n' Bows" -- Pakula approaches the open spaces of the frontier to escape from urban claustrophobia and instead finds reflections of it, lonely graves and cavernous rooms lit by oil lamps. The cowboy (James Caan) is a World War II vet riding through the hills of Montana, the heroine (Jane Fonda) is a taciturn "banshee woman boss" trying to keep her ranch from being devoured by her cousin, the land baron (Jason Robards). A dialogue with the genre's past is maintained throughout: Caan reveals a Gary Cooper side, Fonda shoulders her family's frontier legacy (The Ox-Bow Incident, Once Upon a Time in the West), open-air dances and cattle stampedes are patiently laid out while the land is dynamited for oil. The very '70s irony of Pakula's range war rests in the way even the villain's individualism is threatened by an anonymous system controlled by bankers hiding behind Gordon Willis's shadows. Much of it is mirrored laterally in Heaven's Gate and There Will Be Blood; elsewhere, the George Stevens influence is evident during Caan and Fonda's first shared meal, a single take follows the dying cowhand (Richard Farnsworth) as he climbs onto a horse and rides away into the beyond, and in the process records a lightning strike in the background. The closing shot posits a hopeful a new beginning, but only after a reminder of the problematic new decade just around the bend. With George Grizzard, and James Keach.
--- Fernando F. Croce