Back in 2014, Marvel presented audiences with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the screenwriters of that film noted that a major inspiration for their now critically-acclaimed installment of the MCU was directly inspired by political thrillers of the 1970's. Namely the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor (Based on the 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady). And it's easy to see why as you delve into this story of a bookish CIA researcher who comes back from lunch one day to discover his co-workers murdered, and tries to outwit those responsible. While of course, the spy film, like so many before and after it, deals with the unraveling of a conspiracy, it is the film's simple human perspective of that research, Joe Turner (Played by Robert Redford), that takes this film a step above others.
At the beginning of the film, director Sydney Pollack is smart to establish Turner as a flawed and somewhat skittish man, with Redford bringing to life his character's brilliance and his lack of self-assurance outside of the library. Perhaps Redford's greatest accomplishment is utilizing his character's academic background to establish why he is a threat to begin with and bridging that doggish intelligence that allows him to stay a step ahead of those chasing him. While Faye Dunaway's character Kathy Hale becomes an, at first, unwilling hostage (As Turner hides in her place for part of the film), her accomplishment is being able to create a believable shift from hostage to lover, all the while maintaining her character's independent thoughts. A lesser actor could not have pulled this off, coming off as offensively unrealistic or borderline commentary on Stockholm Syndrome.
Yet as Turner proves his value as the hero of the story, he does so as well to the supporting cast. This also includes Max von Sydow as the assassin Joubert who is not just a killer, but a man of complexity in both his background and is philosophies. Sydow brings this to the screen with a coy acceptance of the realities around him, thus creating a battle of philosophies between him and the idealistic Turner.
To reveal this film further is to ruin the work Pollack puts into the story and the delicate cat-and-mouse game he weaves from the script of Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel. What can be said is that, while his ending sometimes sinks into exposition, Pollack never let's the story feel weighed down. Instead, he let's the actors ricochet off each other. And editors Don Guidice and Fredric Steinkamp make sure to let the cuts be sharp and sudden to mirror the conflict of the characters both internally and against external forces. All against composer Dave Grusin's jazzy score that almost works to subdue the audience's paranoia, lulling them into a false sense of security which Pollack takes advantage of every chance he gets.
What can be truly said about this film is that it's from an era where extended, back-and forth dialogue exchanges were a more regular occurrence. The intent of course to reflect real conversations that can't really be shown visually but rather must be explained to give the film's internal narrative mechanics as much conciseness as possible to the audience. Perhaps the exposition can go too far at times, perhaps Pollack, in his attempt at the spy genre he never did before this film, simply wanted to cover the undercurrent politics of his time, in the middle of the Cold War where often victories were decided with small, isolated acts than big, bombastic victories.
Or, perhaps, Pollack simply didn't know how to streamline some elements and hoped audiences would revel in the information. A fascinating political story that sometimes stalls on those micro-details or conveys development at a snail's pace. Where several villains, such as Cliff Robertson's Higgins, feel like stock characters assembled from old parts and used simply to avoid anything that might make the story even more complex than it already is. Much like the moral questions asked at the end of this film, that becomes entirely up to each viewer's tastes. For this writer, one who dwells in his off-time in the world of academia, it was a success and a visceral experience.
Performances by Redford, Dunaway, and Sydow.
Tension and moral dilemmas.
Cliche villain in the form of Robertson's Higgins.