Figures in a Landscape (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by a helicopter.

Ansell (Malcolm McDowell) and MacConnachie (Robert Shaw) are two men on the run in the middle of a bleak, desolate desert. What they are escaping from is never clear, but they’re constantly hounded by a helicopter that seems intent at stopping them. They come upon a small village and steal food and supplies and then continue on their escape, but find trying to get along with each other is just as challenging as avoiding the copter.

I’m a big admirer of Joseph Losey’s films and I also enjoy movies that have an air of mystery and don’t feel the need to have to explain everything, but this attempt at avante garde doesn’t work. The Barry England novel or which this is based and received high critical praise when it came out in 1968 at least made it clear that these two were soldiers who were deserting for whatever reason, but the movie doesn’t even mention this. We’re simply left with a nothing-burger of seeing two guys we have no emotional connection with scurrying around the countryside, which gets old fast and has nothing to keep it compelling though the bird’s eye shots of them on the ground looking like dots as they run at least allows it to live up to its title.

Fans of the film will admit that the story is lacking, but the helicopter sequences and stunt work more than makes up for it, but I found this aspect to be underwhelming. The camerawork of showing the copter bearing down on them while splicing in shots from the pilot’s point-of-view is well handled, but it’s not as exciting as could’ve been because when the pilots have a chance to shoot the men they don’t. McDowell’s character explains that they (the helicopter pilots) are just ‘toying with them’, but the viewer can’t be expected to get wrapped-up in a silly cat-and-mouse contest that has no life or death consequence.

Much of the blame for why this comes-off more like a misguided experiment than an actual movie, can be attributed to Shaw, who was given permission to rewrite the script and promised to have it completed by the time shooting began, but didn’t. Apparently revisions were being made on a daily basis and no one knew where the plot was going, or how to end it, which ultimately makes for a flat and detached viewing experience.

The two leads do quite well with McDowell interesting as the younger of the two, but still more emotionally mature. Shaw is equally fine giving off a maniacal laugh that I’ve never heard him do before. Their bout with diarrhea at a most inopportune time is amusing. While some may find it gross it’s something that could happen to those who haven’t eaten in awhile and feeding off canned food, so in that way the movie tackles a realistic subject other escapees-on-the-run movies shy away from though the shaving aspect was a problem in reverse. I didn’t understand why Shaw would feel it’s so important for them to remain clean shaven when they’re just trying to survive and there’s no explanation for how they were able to remain without beards at the beginning when they were running around with their hands tied behind their backs.

In any case the movie desperately needed a conclusion as way too much is left open-ended. There should’ve been a final twist, like in an episode of the ‘Twilight Zone’ that makes sitting through it worth it. Ultimately it lacks focus with a concept better suited for a novel and never should’ve been made into a movie in the first place.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

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