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A.K.A. Three Days of the Condor
After hitting the street on 5/19, three new paranoid thriller Blu-ray releases from Paramount Home Entertainment have definitely found this reviewer looking over her shoulder over the course of a week and a half.
Gripping and diverse, the titles have arrived in tandem with the angry, morally thought-provoking twenty-first century Falling Down inspired Changing Lanes and the underrated war film Enemy at the Gates. And to top off that slate of movies, Warner Brothers managed to tie right into the theme with a Deluxe Edition DVD and Blu-ray of Falling Down hitting shelves this week as well.
However, for the most part it's been an in-depth, two week long look at cinematic onscreen paranoia lately at Film Intuition via three very different Hitchcockian influenced works. Juggling unreliable narrators with unbelievable situations and undeniable tension, we've explored 'em all in the form of Sydney Pollack's fresh-after-Watergate classic 3 Days of the Condor, John Woo's North By Northwest inspired action laced update of a Philip K. Dick story in Paycheck, and a haunting turn by Christian Bale as an emaciated insomniac in Brad Anderson's cult favorite The Machinist.
Although before we settle into the rest, we'll go back in time to the cold war era for 3 Days of the Condor which-- going completely against the grain-- opted not to use Russia as a backdrop but instead set the action right here in the United States.
While some people say that they're saving up for a rainy day, it's precisely a rainy day that ends up saving Robert Redford from getting massacred along with the rest of his coworkers in a lunchtime raid at their office after only a few minutes into The Way We Were and Jeremiah Johnson director Sydney Pollack's fast-moving thriller.
Working as a reader in the purposely dully named American Literary Historical Society-- Redford's Joseph Turner breaks protocol at what is in reality a governmental agency "front" by sneaking out the back to cut a few rain soaked blocks off his trip to bring back lunch. Missing from the raid that's foreshadowed in an eerie sequence as we watch our villain flip through photographs of the workers (including Redford's which conspicuously looks like a dreamy headshot), Turner we soon ascertain is both the last and only man from his tiny group left standing once the bullets fly.
So in a cross between saving his life for a rainy day and/or being literally "out to lunch" in the type of odd coincidence his character would've looked for by scouring texts of all types as a "code-breaker" of sorts-- reading everything he can for patterns or dangerous information-- suddenly the nerdy Dick Tracy loving avid comic book enthusiast Joseph Turner realizes he needs to abandon the librarian pretense and go into spy mode.
The only thing is, the admittedly clumsy and awkward Turner has never really gone into spy mode before and now, armed only with a tiny pistol he secured from the desk of the receptionist, Joseph Turner is easily outnumbered and outgunned. Obviously, we assume (as does Turner) that the government must have all kinds of "contingency plans" that will fall into place and he dutifully phones in, revealing his code name of Condor.
However, and much to the late great Sydney Pollack's credit in not revealing the link to the CIA by name until almost thirty minutes into the movie, the tension and uncertainty mounts as Turner grows increasingly suspicious. And when additional gunplay ensues, he realizes he has no idea where to turn since as the movie's dynamite tagline promises, "in the next seventy-two hours almost everyone he trusts will try to kill him."
Logically, he decides the next best move would be to steer clear of old surroundings and associates so he randomly abducts the next woman with whom he comes into contact-- Faye Dunaway's game Kathy Hale-- and the two hide out at her apartment to sort things out.
Obviously since he's the man wielding the gun, Kathy tries to play along but Turner-- relieved to have someone to speak with earnestly confesses everything in an attempt to persuade her that he is who he says he is and not a cold-blooded criminal.
Fortunately Dunaway's character is penned as anything but a damsel in distress and, right in line with her string of memorable work of this era in films including Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, and Network-- she manages to get more mileage than we'd expect out of her role as unwitting and underwritten romantic sidekick and lonely girl photographer.
Although, of course the two do end up predictably becoming romantically involved (it's Dunaway and Redford in 1975-- what are they not going to hook up onscreen?!), the immediacy in which the two hit the sack that very night still feels like an intensely false note amidst the otherwise rhythmic pacing of arty and uncharacteristically roughly five-second long "shots" between cuts and the intelligent screenplay.
In fact, the dubious nature of their coupling was one of the plot points debated in the second sexiest scene (the first being the intercut hotel bar and room sequence) in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight in which Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney-- finding themselves in a similar situation-- chat about old movies while he holds her hostage in the trunk of a car.
Yet, most likely the reason for this largely unsuccessful leap to try and make us suspend our disbelief is one that-- similar to some of the clunky plot points of Turner's less-than-bright decisions and his near instantaneous transformation from a klutz to well, Dick Tracy-- can easily be attributed to the fact that Pollack's Condor was an adaptation of a novel set over the course of six instead of three days.
By speeding up the action to fit the running time and doing away with the exposition to make the film more of an action movie with a clearer through-line that will fall just under one hundred and twenty minutes, the film gets away with a lot of things that on the whole it probably wouldn't have by presenting them to us so quickly.
Despite some of the confusion and the sort of vague idea of a CIA within a CIA (which as Ebert noted, following Watergate was entirely plausible and it's indeed one that remains so in our Bourne Identity era) all tangled up in a paranoid plot that at times feels like a Hitchcockian MacGuffin that we can't quite understand until the film's final segment-- it works best as a cat and mouse thriller as Redford fights to stay alive.
With an incredible turn by Max von Sydow as one of the many dangerous "company" types and/or hired guns out to get Turner, Condor is filled with more than few scenes sure to get your heart rate going that are elevated by a great antihero '70s air about the film that fills it with just the right amount of doom lurking ahead long after the credits roll.
Thus, it's easy to just go ahead and forget some of the warning bells sounding in your brain like the ludicrous decision the main characters make to drive the same vehicle throughout even though the government knows it well and just join the chase in another excellent and exciting effort by frequent collaborators Pollack and Redford. Additionally, it's one that reminds you that it's always a good idea to go for a walk in the rain... just make sure you bring an umbrella and always remember your code name.