Comes a Fonda
Turning a robustly busy 79 today, Jane Fonda has more to mark of late than just a birthday, including a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress Performance in a Comedy Series as the Grace of Grace and Frankie, plus the recent completion of filming on her eagerly awaited reteaming with Robert Redford on the movie Our Souls at Night (opening next year), and her recent chronicling for Time of the fight of the Indigenous People of North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to block the Sunoco Logistics Dakota Access Pipeline initiative from crossing ancestral lands and drilling beneath the Missouri River. (Read her coverage here: http://time.com/4587314/jane-fonda-standing-rock/). She’s become a signature part of this label in 2016, starting with April’s Julia (1977), May’s Cat Ballou (1965), September’s 9 to 5 (1980), October’s The Chase (1966, her first outing with Redford, to be followed with 1967’s Barefoot in the Park and 1979’s The Electric Horseman) and climaxing with two January releases, Stanley & Iris (1990) and an undervalued Western foray that taps into the family legacy of on-screen American individualism pioneered by her revered father Henry: Comes a Horseman (1978), which reunited her with the Klute duo of director Alan J. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis. Set in 1945 at the end of World War II, Comes a Horseman affords Fonda the role of a beleaguered cattle rancher whose land and livestock are endangered by the encroachments of a more powerful rival (her recent Julia co-star Jason Robards) determined to broaden his empire and, talk about a screenplay (an original by Dennis Lynton Clark) with resonance to today (see above), waiting in the wings are Big Oil Interests pressuring the region’s landowners to provide clearance to drill. More than in any other part she played, Fonda hauntingly invokes her father, in her ability to ride, rope and herd with the most hardened of cowboys, in her rock-hard determinism to stand fast against power-grabbing plutocrats, and in her beautifully open, weather-beaten face that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to our collective movie memories of Tom Joad, Wyatt Earp and Lt. Doug Roberts. She enlists an ally in her cause, a hard-luck WWII veteran (an unusually cast but marvelously effective James Caan) who also stakes his future in land and self-reliance, and the battle to push back against the forces of capitalistic greed turns brutally pragmatic and lawless, even as the wary pair strives to maintain a degree of integrity and reason. It all plays out across a host of breathtakingly open Arizona and Colorado landscapes that Willis, whose peerless camera lensing was hitherto acclaimed for the dark, cloistered and urban, renders with loving, brooding majesty. In a cast threaded with great talent throughout, including George Grizzard, Mark Harmon, Jim Davis and James Keach, long-time stunt performer (who doubled for Roy Rogers and Gary Cooper in their heyday) and Western stalwart Richard Farnsworth shines as a veteran ranch hand who rankles at the enfolding tragedies and becomes an accidental victim. He would score a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® nomination and continue on for 20 more years as a premier character actor with rich roles in The Grey Fox (1982), The Natural (1984), The Getaway (1994) and his final, memorable, Oscar®-nominated performance in The Straight Story (1999). Fonda and Pakula would reunite one more time for Rollover (1981), another prescient story of Big Oil and treacherous financial manipulation, this time on a global scale. Ever-evolving birthday celebrant Fonda brings a world of experience and grit to all her efforts on and off screen, much of which can now be enjoyed on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. Featuring Michael Small’s evocative and flavorful music on an Isolated Score Track, Comes a Horseman rides home January 17. Preorders open January 4.