Saturday 27 August 2022

Movie Review: Three Days Of The Condor (1975)

A spy thriller and romance, Three Days Of The Condor uses slick energy and a conspiratorial attitude to fly over a bumpy plot.

In New York City, a quiet CIA station is attacked by a murderous team led by the shadowy Joubert (Max von Sydow). The only survivor is Joe Turner (Robert Redford), nicknamed Condor, who escapes the mayhem because he was out picking up lunch. Turner is a bookish researcher, with a job to read espionage books and feed knowledge to the CIA's computers. Now he is on the run and unsure who to trust.

The CIA's Higgins (Cliff Robertson) arranges for Turner to reach safety, but unknown to Higgins, this turns out to be a trap, and Turner barely survives another assassination attempt. Desperate for cover he randomly abducts Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) at a boutique, and forces her at gunpoint to provide him with refuge at her apartment. As Turner tries to piece together the motivations and perpetrators behind the station hit, his relationship with Kathy evolves towards a romance.

An adaptation of a James Grady novel written for the screen with dark cynicism by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel, Three Days Of The Condor springs into action with an explosive first act. Director Sydney Pollack sets the stage at a sleepy CIA research station occupied by bookworms rather than spies, then unleashes the fury of assassins. Turner loses all his anchors, including girlfriend/co-worker Janice (Tina Chen), and suddenly has to dredge up and apply basic agent training just to stay alive.

As Turner uses Kathy's apartment as a base and works hard to outhink his foes, Pollack maintains quick pacing and a sense of coiled tension. Redford and Dunaway do their part as a dream photogenic couple. But all the good thriller intentions and attractive visuals cannot quite conceal a potholed plot unravelling into a mess of grey men engaging in internecine warfare and conspiracies to cover conspiracies. It all has something to do with Turner stumbling upon a mysteriously published book exposing a secret CIA plan to control Middle East oil fields, but the nefarious scheme is barely explained and ultimately irrelevant.

The affair between Turner and Kathy smolders with pent-up sexuality but strains credibility and ultimately leaves a sour taste. She is forcibly abducted, held hostage, and roughed up by an agitated, almost incoherent man, but within a hours they are making passionate love (not to mention he is being pursued by assassins and just recently stumbled upon the bullet-riddled corpse of his girlfriend). Kathy is well-defined as a lonely amateur photographer with a different perspective on life, but her uniqueness does not nearly justify the narrative rush to wedged-in passion. Equally befuddling is Turner's seamless transition to a smooth field agent capable of outsmarting and overcoming seasoned veterans.

And yet Three Days Of The Condor is never less than gripping. The New York locations provide an organic backdrop to an unyielding battle of wits, the action never dawdles, and Turner's trenchcoat-and-raised-collar look exudes effortless dominance. This big bird has some clumsy proportions, but still soars.

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