Liked this just as much as Midnight Cowboy
The sequence is evocative. His determined bearing contrasts sharply with the fallow, wintery fields that surround him; it's an image of latent virility hunting new purpose amid unproductive wasteland, like spring's precocious first flowers. Real or perceived, cynical or justified, it's one man's struggle against the world. And Max cuts a sufficiently robust figure to make the viewer momentarily suspect that he might just come out on top.
Inferring a glimmer of hope from this paradoxical backdrop seems almost too bold, but the temptation to do so is not easily dismissed.
But the initial mystique of Max's belligerence is quickly dispensed by a literal downfall with figurative implications. He fights and clambers his way through an inconveniently-placed fence, a man-made encroachment on his freedom, only to immediately tumble down a precipitous embankment; his efforts are met with censure rather of reward.
Only after this demonstration of fallibility does hitherto unseen Francis (Pacino) hazard a first communication, asking if Max is hurt- while still hiding behind a tree. The ensuing antics Francis employs to engage a recalcitrant Max clearly demonstrates both their differences in approach, as well as the significance of the film's title. Where gruff and sensitive Max perceived relies on a menacing exterior to scare off those who would threaten him, Francis prefers humor. He defuses antagonistic situations by finding clever ways to demonstrate to any would-be opponent that the meek do not pose a threat, though he usually accomplishes this without sacrificing undue dignity. But asserting that Max's approach seems to borrow more from the scarecrow would be a mistake, according to Francis, who explains that the misunderstood scarecrow really distracts crows by making them laugh. Interpretation aside, watching Pacino play the clown will be a source of cognitive dissonance to anyone familiar with his subsequent work.
Max's conception of the scarecrow is zero-sum, while Francis' is win-win. The superiority of the latter approach appears confirmed by a scene in which Max finally manages to step over his own shadow, choosing to put on a self-effacing mock strip tease instead of giving in to a drunken provocation.
But the victory proves short-lived, and Francis' penchant for putting himself in vulnerable positions ends tragically. A vicious lie conjured up by a scornful ex-wife overwhelms his sincere penitence, shaking the foundations of his psyche and leaving him in a catatonic state.
Perhaps this posits an explanation for why clownish behavior is so strongly associated with immaturity; the adult world promises myriad reprisals to anyone naive enough to buttress an otherwise positive outlook on humanity with subversive humor. Affording others the benefit of the doubt, it seems, will only leave one feeling disappointed-a point savagely reinforced by the film's ending.
Having already credited Francis with helping him overcome his own trust issues, Max attempts to purchase a round-trip bus ticket to Pittsburgh, apparently intending to return to his friend, but doesn't have quite enough cash. An obvious course-of-action, and extremely cynical closing, appears to suggest itself: simply buying the one-way ticket. After all, there's no reason he couldn't simply buy the return ticket with the money apparently waiting in Pittsburgh. Instead, Max removes his boot, the same one he compulsively keeps under his pillow while sleeping, and proceeds to dislodge the heel just enough to release a neatly folded $10 bill. True, this could just be a hidden emergency fund, but $10 dollars would hardly justify keeping the boot underneath his pillow every night. The more likely explanation seems to be that he's had the money on his person the whole time, hidden from his trusting friend and contravening whatever lesson he or the audience might have learned.
But the ultimate lesson is more balanced. Interacting successfully with the world does not imply a competition between diametrically-opposed, absolutist positions, but of learning to harness some elements of each approach, combining them in the right proportions to achieve pragmatic aims, without overly-compromising yourself in the process. By the end, Max's ingrained skeptical reflexes are precisely what enables the trust he's established with Francis to ultimately bear fruit. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.
The first thing that appealed to me about Scarecrow is a nostalgia for my teenage years. It's a free spirited movie that captured the essence of just living free and true to who you are and just going. The characters are easily identifiable. I love the theme in movies of awkward characters experiencing big events. An adventure movie with shy adventurers. It's like in Deer Hunter, with all the scenes where in a more romantic and narrative-driven movie the dialogue would match the intensity of the moment, but De Niro just looks at people and smiles quietly, and the moment is ruined but the character becomes much more interesting and it becomes a more personal moment. Or like in The Conversation where the drunk woman is flirting with Hackman and he doesn't speak. Scarecrow takes a different approach. Hackman fills the empty spaces by speaking from his aggression, while Pacino acts very eccentric. I loved his performance in this. He makes faces and talks gibberish. I get that way when I'm anxious and can't think of anything to say. Just act foolish to break the silence. But there's a lot going on with Pacino's character and even more going on with the dynamic of their relationship. It's a movie that can make you introspective if you let it.
It's interesting how Hackman calls him Lion and Scarecrow. I guess Hackman is the Tin Man without a heart, or at least he hides his heart. And Pacino is without a brain and without courage. He doesn't have the courage to grow up and really give anything a serious thought, and as a result he's defeated by his emotional immaturity. Scarecrow is the story of the outcasts in the world who put up a wall and self-destruct. But more than that, the moral is we all need friends and most importantly we need to be friends with ourselves.
Scarecrow is interesting because it has two of the most critically acclaimed actors of the 1970's paired up and put into a film where their characters are simply drifters moving from place to place in the context of a road movie. Instead of being put into the roles of serious dramatic grit, the characters in Scarecrow are a lot more natural and simple which means that it requires the actors to put their natural charm into the parts. It presents a great opportunity to the actors and comes from a time in society when the counterculture movement was beginning to bloom. Scarecrow has the cultural relevance of being a story about people looking out for each other and the value of friendship. To put is simply, Scarecrow is built on a simple story and a script full of intelligent dialogue which gives it a lot of spirit, and while the story is not consistently interesting because it is unpredictable and doesn't really know exactly where it is going, it is still an entertaining film.
Scarecrow came from a much simpler time in cinema, the age of films such as Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces which were about the sad nature of the world and the directionless people within it. Films that were not about all that much but had serious relevance to the contemporary culture of the time. If you understand that when going in to see Scarecrow then you will understand just what its importance is all about, but otherwise you could find it to be slow or even pointless. I mean even I was able to feel the slow pace of the film over its running time, but it doesn't mean I wasn't able to enjoy the film for its realistic drama which wasn't melodramatic. The drama of the story in Scarecrow is allowed to develop at its own pace which is a more organic rate, and Jerry Schatzberg gives the film the necessary kind of restrained direction that it needed. While it could even be a little too restrained at times which allows the story to scatter a little bit, it is still a simple film which is enjoyable for that kind of purpose as well because the ambiguity that comes with audiences asking "what comes next?" is essentially key to a road movie. It keeps viewers constantly interested, and so the mix of character focus and counterculture themes in Scarecrow makes it an interesting film on a fairly consistent basis.
But the thing that Scarecrow mainly revolves around is the talents of its cast because everything is focused on ensuring that both Al Pacino and Gene Hackman are supplied material that is up to their calibre of acting. Luckily enough, they have no problem achieving that and they prove to be able to keep the energy and drama of the film flowing from start to finish.
Al Pacino's performance in Scarecrow is one of his most honest to date. His performance dominates the screen, and without even having to sink into a complicated character he just takes the role by storm because he is so naturally good at it. The talent that Al Pacino puts into his leading performance in Scarecrow is not one that he has to think too much about because it seems just like him if he was in the same situation that his character Francis Lionel "Lion" Delbuchi faces. Al Pacino's performance is a seriously organic one which emphasises all of his talents as an actor without giving him a high profile character, and so it is a wonderful thing to see. When you contrast his role in Scarecrow to the performances he has given in films such as The Godfather, Scarface or Scent of a Woman, you can see a large difference between them based on how they are written. But the role in Scarecrow didn't even need to be written since Al Pacino was able to supply so much to it without trouble. Al Pacino's leading performance in Scarecrowe is just excellent and it makes the film worth a viewing standalone.
Gene Hackman's performance is almost as enthralling. Similarly, Gene Hackman faces his role in Scarecrow as the character Max Millan with his own natural charm and charisma as an actor. And in doing that he manages to capture both a gritty edge for the man and a certain sense of charm which makes him funny at times. But above all the important thing is that he makes the character a compelling one by giving audiences the ability to sympathise with his decisions and understand everything about him. Gene Hackman's effort in Scarecrow is very admirable because it is one where he gets deeply involved in the character and delivers his lines with a powerful honesty, and he proves himself fearless and entertaining in the role.
The chemistry between the two actors is excellent as well because it seems like the way that their characters gain education from each other is mirrored by the benefit they get from working together as actors on Scarecrow. The chemistry they share has a feel of true friendship to it that is so powerful that it almost becomes like brotherhood, so pairing them together is a benefit to Scarecrow and the world in so many ways.
So while Scarecrow is a slow film which doesn't always know where to go or what to do, it is consistently entertaining thanks to its cultural relevance as a cinematic piece of counterculture and due to the skilful leading performances of both Academy Award winners Al Pacino and Gene Hackman who work to make it a memorable film which pays off thanks to both their standalone efforts and the kind of chemistry they achieve in the process, and it is all achieved under the relaxed and skillful direction of Jerry Schatzberg.