FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. Twentieth Century Fox, UK, 1970. National General Pictures, US, 1971. Robert Shaw, Malcolm McDowell. Screenplay: Robert Shaw. based on the novel by Barry England. Director: Joseph Losey.

    Figures in a Landscape isn’t exactly the type of movie to grow on you, but it’s one that lingers in your mind for a while after you’ve finished watching. Part of this has to do with the fact that, at least on one level, not all that much happens in the movie.

   There are two primary characters – the only two characters with real dialogue – and the movie follows their journey through fields, villages, canyons, and mountain peaks as they attempt to outrun a mysterious black helicopter in a deadly game of cat and mouse. The other reason that the film lingers in your mind’s eye after watching is because there’s actually a lot happening in the movie, albeit on a symbolic level. Indeed, much of the movie is an extended metaphor about the basic human quest to be free from constraints and rules. The movie also has a lot to say about warfare, borders, and government power.

   Robert Shaw and a young Malcolm McDowell portray two British men in a hostile territory. We don’t know who they really are or why they are on the run and who may be on their trail. The movie opens with the two of them in handcuffs trying to evade an omnipresent black helicopter constantly hovering above them. It soon becomes clear that the helicopter, operated by two men dressed all in the black, is not simply interested in capturing the duo. It, or at least its pilot, wants to torment them.

   As the film progresses, the viewer learns that Shaw’s character, Mac, is a gruff, crude sort, while McDowell’s character, Ansell, is a more sensitive type whose good with the ladies and who isn’t afraid to cry. Both men need each other to evade the helicopter and, even though they clearly have little in common, decide to forge a partnership for the time being.

   Their journey takes them through all sorts of terrain. It’s here that Joseph Losey’s direction really shines. The natural vistas presented here are breathtaking, and all serve to remind the viewer that duo are small figures upon a larger naturalistic canvas.

   But what is the point of all this? For a movie rich with existential themes and which attempts to say a lot by saying very little, the dialogue is eminently forgettable. Although the banter between the two at times resembles that of a bickering old married couple, neither of duo has all that much interesting to say about their plight. More is said by their actions than by their words. This is particularly true for Mac (Shaw). By the time the two men are almost free from the helicopter, he is increasingly mentally unbalanced and erratic.

   All told, Figures in a Landscape definitely isn’t a great movie, but it’s a good one. It’s boldly experimental and benefits from not only Losey’s direction, but from exceptional cinematography and a haunting score by Richard Rodney Bennett.