Posts Tagged ‘espionage’

Three Days of the Condor

I liked spy movies better when they used phone booths.

The paths we take to movies can be strange, sometimes.  Case in point: after I first listened to an audio book of John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief more than half a decade ago, Three Days of the Condor set up shop in a tiny corner of my brain.  Grisham’s shadowy assassin loves Three Days of the Condor because it’s familiar territory for him: a smart espionage thriller set in a world of hired killer, government operatives, and code names.  All I gleaned from the brief reference was that it was a spy movie with Robert Redford, and that was enough to keep it bouncing around in my mind until the time was right to finally see it.

And when I did, imagine my surprise when Redford turned out to be a computer geek (to the extent that was even possible in 1975) dealing with arcane bits of data in a cleverly disguised CIA office.  The technology of spy movies has certainly moved on since Three Days of the Condor was released — and it seems like the world has, too.  It’s a movie I’ve never heard mentioned or seen on TV, though perhaps I’m not talking to the right people or watching the right channels.  But you’d think one of the smartest thrillers ever made — with a talented pair like Sydney Pollack directing and Robert Redford starring — would show up a little more often.

Three Days of the Condor begins innocently, introducing you to a small group of CIA researchers, which makes their murder all the more abrupt when it happens.  From that point on, it’s intensity overdrive, with Redford gradually shedding his bookworm persona to become more confident, more daring, more in control.  Unlike most thrillers, in which the gun is the weapon of choice, Redford fights primarily with information.  For most of the film he’s fighting to figure out who wants him dead, and why, he knows it’s something he knows.  So he’s constantly thinking and planning, desperate to untangle the knot of secrets surrounding him before he’s caught.

The weakest link of the movie is Faye Dunaway’s presence as a requisite love interest.  Her acting is by no means bad, but after Redford hijacks her and her car and holes up in her apartment to lie low, their ensuing romance is slightly unbelievable.  Then again, it’s pretty standard fare for these types of movies — I don’t know if we can write it of as Stockholm syndrome or simply accept that people in emotionally charged situations tend to develop feelings for each other, but the romantic subplot is the only element of Three Days of the Condors that plays it by the book.  And really, it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone could resist Robert Redford in his prime.

We’re obviously geared to love Redford from the start, but Max von Sydow utterly steals the show during the finale, driving home a magnificently taut twist ending that’s far too good to spoil.  From the first time Sydow appears on screen, we know quite clearly that he is the enemy, that he is cold, merciless, and evil.  But by the end…he is, perhaps, the most respectable character in the film.

Watch Three Days of the Condors for the fun of keeping up with the plot.  Watch it for Redford or Max von Sydow.  Watch it for the 70s charm of ancient computers and phone booths.  But definitely watch it, because thrillers that brew intensity and brains into this fine a cocktail are few and far between.