- Rated R
- Buy the BD
Reviewed by Jeff Giles
olitical thrillers are certainly nothing new – they’ve been a staple of the cinema at least as far back as Hitchcock’s “Notorious” in 1946 – but they really bloomed during the post-Watergate years of the ‘70s, when audiences were not only willing to believe that their government was corrupt at its highest levels, but they were still really bothered by the idea. These days, it isn’t enough for your protagonist to be a man hunted by the system and hopelessly outgunned – you’ve got to give him a martial arts background, blow up a few buildings and have multiple car chases, all filmed with the latest blink-and-you’ll-miss-it editing technology. With Tricky Dick’s shadow hanging over the White House, however, it was enough to simply spend a couple of hours coming up with some absurdly nefarious (albeit utterly plausible) government conspiracy. For some of Hollywood’s finest filmmakers, paranoia was its own reward.
Though perhaps not one of the true classics of the genre, Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor,” easily exemplifies the jaded cynicism of the era. Robert Redford stars as Joe Turner, a man who, when we meet him early in the film, appears to be an employee of something called the American Literary Historical Society. The opening scenes take great pains to establish Turner’s iconoclastic personality – he rides a bike to work! He’s late again! – but they also make it clear that he’s sort of a low-level bureaucrat, a guy whose pet project is dismissed out of hand by his superiors.
Turner’s disregard for authority carries over to his lunchtime routine – he uses an unauthorized back door to step out and pick up food for the staff, enraging the office security guard and ultimately saving his life, because while he’s out, a group of mysterious baddies (led by Max von Sydow, oozing cool as always) dispatches Turner’s co-workers in a hail of bullets. This sequence sets the tone for the film in two ways: (1) it sets Turner on the path that takes up the rest of the movie, and (2), it establishes that Pollack is more interested in dialing up the story’s suspense than he is in goosing it along with action set pieces. This seems like a liability at first – Dave Grusin’s peppy fusion jazz score is wildly inappropriate, and Pollack fumbles so badly with the slaughter at the ALHS that it’s actually unintentionally funny in parts – but it’s a tactic that eventually pays handsome dividends.
Pollack’s slow build may trigger restless leg syndrome in modern audiences weaned on the energy drink-fueled mayhem of movies like “Eagle Eye” and “Live Free or Die Hard,” but patient newcomers will eventually realize that the gradual pace allows the movie to get its hooks into you more sneakily. It takes half an hour before the truth about Turner’s occupation comes out, and another 30 minutes before the first confrontation between Redford and von Sydow. As they quietly size each other up in an apartment elevator, you realize Pollack has you firmly in his grasp. Despite a healthy number of flaws in the film – including the badly mishandled relationship between Redford and Faye Dunaway’s characters – it’s easy to see how and why “Condor” inspired so many of the conspiracy thrillers that came after it.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
It would be nice if that influence – or anything else about the movie – were explored in further depth in the Blu-ray release’s special features, but there aren’t any. Aside from an HD version of the theatrical trailer, this is as barebones a reissue as you’re likely to find. The picture has been given a suitably thoughtful transfer, preserving an appropriate level of film grain while enhancing enough textures and details to let you know you’re watching a high-def upgrade. Similarly, the audio has been remixed in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, but as with the picture, source limitations provide for an experience that’s pleasant but not exceptional. As with other catalog titles getting the Blu-ray treatment, “Condor” needed a healthy dose of added content to make up for its inability to take full advantage of the format; in this case, Paramount dropped the ball. Unless you’re really looking for a way to blow $20 you aren’t going to miss, you’re still better off investing in the DVD.