Three Days of the Condor (1975, dir. Sydney Pollack)
Starring Robert Reford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max Von Sydow, John Houseman
In the wake of Watergate in the early 1970s, a trend began in films made by younger directors towards anti-government conspiracy thrillers. You had the “based on a true story” variety like All The President’s Men, the naturalist conspiracy like The Candidate, and the more Hitchcock-ian conspiracy in The Conversation. Here Sydney Pollack takes a crack at adapting a novel to the screen about a man on the more paperwork side of the CIA. It begins with some intriguing moments, but slowly devolves into a formulaic studio picture, only to deliver a very prescient twist.
Joe Turner (Redford) works for the American Literary Society, a front for a group of translators who spend their days literally reading everything and looking for any oddities that could be a way of encoding messages. Turner has discovered such an oddity, a book that was only published in Arabic, Dutch, and Spanish with no logically reason why. He receives a message from his superior telling him the Agency believes it is not of importance. Later that same day a group of men show up and kill all of Turner’s coworkers, while he escapes, now on the run. As he delves further into the conspiracy he learns that there is possible a subgroup within the CIA and that he has stumbled upon some vitally important secrets. He uses his technical knowledge and book smarts to stay ahead of his pursuers and eventually learns the reason why his coworkers were murdered.
The conspiracy part of the film is spot on and kept me very engaged. The part of the film that I zoned out during was the very forced love story between Redford and Dunaway. Dunaway was a woman he simply kidnaps to use her car and stay in her apartment. For some reason they inexplicably have sex the first night they meet and she helps me out, despite the implausibility of a person in this situation would do such a thing. Other than the forced romantic subplot (methinks I smell studio intervention), Dunaway has some interesting things to do and is able to move the conspiracy plot along by helping Redford identify the man behind his misery.
Max Von Sydow’s German mercenary is a character interesting enough to have his own film, and delivers an interesting speech near the end of the film about the peacefulness of his life, and how his job has a sort of meditative quality. Robertson does a great job as Redford’s callous superior and gets to deliver a chilling warning to Redford in the film’s final scene. Redford has uncovered the truth of the book translation and why his colleagues were murdered at this point, and Robertson talks about the coming decades in America, and how the unscrupulous actions of the CIA in the present won’t be judge by the citizens in the future. Definitely worth a view and will make you think about the state of the world in comparison.