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Sunday, 11 January 2009

Three Days of the Condor, 1975 - Movie Review

Director: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson
Running Time: 117 minutes
Score: 8 / 10

This review by Johnnyboyz. Spoilers ahead for this brilliant film

Whatever meek fondness I had for the Bourne films prior to seeing Three Days of the Condor has almost all but vaporised and this is due to the engrossing and engaging film that is Three Days of the Condor, an espionage film made at a time when espionage was at the peak of its existence and when film-making was, arguably, film-making. It's easy to see the film now and recognise with the added aid of history what it was trying to say. It's also easy now to point out more recent films that have been influenced by it. But I feel Three Days of the Condor is one of those films that most people should see for this reason alone; for the reason that you don't need a cut a second approach to get across the feeling of urgency and it is possible to write a film that doesn't have its protagonists always rely on technology.

The 'Condor' of the title refers to Robert Redford's character and how earlier examples of the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time can still seem afresh. Joseph Turner (Redford) leaves his post at a CIA run building which scans and analyses most written texts in the world for secret, encrypted clues. Here is the film setting up its predominant theme of suspicion. At a time when the East and the West were at loggerheads, the CIA must recruit people to read and scan seemingly random books in order to uncover clues and conspiracies, most of which will not even be present. It's this sort of paranoid, 'reading too much into something' atmosphere and situation the film carries the entire time. This is aided by the films constant air of ambiguity shown toward who Turner's character can trust and who he cannot. But the film establishes this hero as a problem solver, albeit a solver for problems and equations that perhaps don't exist before placing him in this situation where a massive problem has erupted and he must deal with it – we as an audience feel he is up to the task.

Then there are the little things you notice thanks to viewing it in the 21st Century. Back in the day when narratives and screenplays actually needed brains and couldn't rely on technology and modernity, films like this were made. When Turner discovers the initial incident in his office building, he cannot use a cell phone so runs to the nearest phone booth. He has to actually get a grip of the situation, leave the establishment without giving anything away and then calmly find a public phone. Likewise later on, when he catches up Kathy Hale (Dunaway) he must wait for the news to start at a certain time. At this point, she doesn't trust him and he has to use his brain to devise a way to keep her from escaping while he can rest and wait for the news. In today's post-modern environment, a 24 Hour News Channel would've cured the problem in a second and we would've been robbed of a scene that not only furthers the forced intimacy of Turner and Hale but one that also enhances Turner's intellectual qualities as he thinks up a solution to his problem of resting/waiting.

These sorts of things are a far cry to the junk we have produced today when technology and gadgets do it for the characters. Take Michael Mann's 2006 stinker 'Miami Vice' and look at how cell phones and laptops do most of the work as the two lead stars strut about with blank expressions on their faces. Then there are the times when you realise this film has been done more recently but with lesser success. The CIA chase idea; the not knowing who's your enemy and who's your friend and more noticeably the character of Hale in this film who's character later resurfaces in The Bourne Identity under the guise of Franka Potente's German character Marie. But Three Days of the Condor retains a certain mysterious atmosphere, it cuts back on itself but when it does so, it never feels like a gimmick and nor do you feel cheated out of an action set piece or a character's death. The primary strand the film has going is its USA vs. USA ideas, especially brave during The Cold War. As a hero, Turner is a blonde haired, upstanding guy who doesn't seem as if he'd hurt anyone and he battles a massive organisation on his own. Then there is the secondary strand running parallel with this involving Dunaway's character and her relationship with Turner which covers all the areas you'd expect it to but it never becomes the primary focus. There is dialogue, there are scene involving just the two of them and they do make love on one occasion but it never overtakes the espionage: they are here, this is what happens, this is how they feel and then 'bang', we move on.

Furthermore, I think the film's other theme as opposed to hunting and looking for things that elude certain individuals is that of watching and point of view. Hale comments that Turner has the sort of eyes which 'don't look away'. They are 'kind' eyes and this scenes while furthering the feeling between the two once again highlights the film's primary ideas about point of view and the constant looking, searching and finding of someone or something. The scene seems unnecessary bar to further the relationship but as I said, the film never gets distracted with the romance and thus even the scenes that seem most obvious in doing so are actually linked with strand one. With a brooding atmosphere, good performances from talent you'll recognise and a series of themes, Three Days of the Condor is a winner.

Then there is this snippet from Rockwell Lestrange


The film ends up being incredibly ironic and a foreshadow for the future of the American government when Redford puts everything together and realizes that everything that's happened is due to oil.

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11 comments:

th said...

downloaded the movie after reading about it here and watched it now. Great movie indeed.

thx for the tip :)

Live for films said...

No worries TH.

Glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your positive review! "Condor" is one of my favorite films. In an interview, Robert Redford said he had discovered the book "Six Days of the Condor" by James Brady and asked Pollock to make a movie out of it. Redford wanted to film it because it had a simple, straightforward plot. I've read marvelous reviews of it on-line. The lack of special effects in the movie is heartening.

Thank You! Hk

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