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Three Days of the Condor (1975)

April 8, 2011

7/10 Murder-gates

Doesn’t hit the same chords as it probably did when Nixon was running the place, but still pretty wild after all these years.

Three Days of the Condor is about a government bookkeeper of sorts who leaves the office to grab lunch one fateful day, then comes back to find that all his co-workers have been filled up with bullet holes. Rather than wait for the gunmen to come back and finish the job, the luckiest bookworm in the world hits the streets, takes some poor gal hostage, and starts making calls like gangbusters to figure out who wants him dead, why anyone would do such a thing, and who’s gonna pay for messing with the wrong ’70s heartthrob.

So this review is coming from the viewpoint of someone who didn’t live through all that Watergate stuff and the reign of Tricky Dick, and that probably played a part in regards to the impression this movie made on me. Not that it isn’t a freaky concept all these years later, but these days I’m a lot more worried about whether the world is gonna explode next year than I am about whether or not the fat cats on Capital Hill are gonna send some hitmen to snuff me out while I’m sitting on the john. I’m guessing that this must have been some pretty freaky deaky shit for all the baby boomers out there, but even if you’re not in that bandwagon, it’s still a rush.

The reason it all works is partly due to all the conspiracy theories, but it’s mostly ’cause of the way it’s structured. From the get-go, the audience has absolutely no clue as to what’s going on. It’s hard to say what Robert Redford does for a living or what he’s talking about, we have no idea what these cats did to get themselves waxed in such a stone cold fashion, and that general of feeling of anonymous terror is what fuels the whole damn movie. The bonus is that Redford’s character, Joseph Turner (codename: The Condor), is on the same page we are. He’s running around like headless chicken and playing it as smart as he can without putting his trust in the wrong people and getting a lead salad in return.

It’s fun, it’s intense, and the novelty keeps up even after the last unsettling line. I don’t know, after watching all these James Bond movies as of late and coming to the realization that the worthwhile entries are the ones that don’t lay the cards on the table within the first 15 minutes, I’m very much digging this script. Also has some pretty solid dialogue throughout, so that’s sweet.

But the one thing that prevented this sucker from getting an 8 is the way Joe Turner goes from a flat-out clueless, accidental fugitive to the craftiest mother fucker in the Big Apple. I mean, unless this guy had been moonlighting at Con Ed since high school, there is no logical explanation for the way he jacks the NYC phone system and uses all the tricks in the book (that he apparently wrote) to turn the tables on the dudes who want him dead. Granted, I’ve never been in the CIA (or maybe I have…), I don’t know what the hell they teach those guys (or maybe I do…), but I’m gonna call “bullshit” on this one (yeah, I’ve never been). It’s not that it’s unrealistic in the sense that it can’t be done, it’s just ridiculous to think that someone could actually pull this stuff off without doing it before, and there’s no way he’s ever had to do this stuff before. You gotta see it for yourself.

But let’s take a moment here to talk about Robert Redford. Up until recently, my opinion of the guy was that – while equally legendary – he was no Paul Newman. But after checking this out and revisiting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…well, I guess that hasn’t really changed much. Although I will say this: Robert was and always will be cooler than cool (ice cold, even). It’s the perfect hair, it’s that killer pea coat, it’s the way it all comes naturally to the guy, Redford’s just the total package when it comes to your all-time Hollywood he-men. I do need to see more Redford movies because I’m sure this isn’t the primary reason women worship the guy and men want to be him, but, damn, Joe Turner is one very watchable fella’ and a whole lot of that is thanks to Rob. Glad I’ve finally seen the light on this matter.

And Faye Dunaway is quite awesome as Turner’s hostage-turned-lover. I’ve never been one to understand Stockholm Syndrome, but she’s got a surprisingly solid little character arc, and while her relationship with Turner might not be the most believable of Hollywood romances, it works for what it is. Nice to see her loosen up as the story goes on, girl’s got a good wise-ass sense of humor. Man, Faye Dunaway rocks.

And speaking of people who rock, Max von Sydow is here as the main assassin on Turner’s tail, Joubert. Hopefully that last sentence speaks for itself, ’cause Sydow’s a natural badass, “Joubert” is a pretty badass name for a trained killer, and, yeah, he’s the man. Enough said.

So if you’re really into government conspiracies and are 99% sure that Uncle Sam is tapping your phone lines, Three Days of the Condor is a movie after your own heart. But if you’re like me and are more prone to getting caught up in the plausibilities of fictional spy tactics than worrying about the mailman putting anthrax in your birthday cards, there’s still a hell of a lot to enjoy. Even 36 years after the fact, it’s very creepy from a political standpoint, it’s very effective from a suspense standpoint, and Robert Redford is a total boss from a bitchin’ standpoint. Not much to gripe about, just a swell, smart, and fast way to spend two hours.

And it’ll totally make you wanna buy a pea coat.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2011 4:26 am

    Great film. Von Sydow was tremendous in it, i remember, and Redford chose the right time to nip out for sandwiches!

    • April 10, 2011 9:12 pm

      Haha. He totally did, that lucky bastard. I like to think his stunning good looks would have stopped the assassins in their tracks anyway. Can’t imagine anyone actually wanting to shoot a face like that.

  2. Pablo Chiste permalink
    April 19, 2011 5:48 pm

    I think this is an all time classic. If you want more hard boiled Redford check out Brubaker where he plays a warden who won’t take any crap.

    • May 2, 2011 3:57 pm

      Yeah, that’s one of the many that’s been on my queue for ages. Will check it out now that I’ve finally realized what a badass Redford is.

  3. blackwatertown permalink
    June 15, 2011 5:47 am

    Great film – excellent opening. It just explodes.

  4. November 1, 2012 1:39 pm

    Your criticism of Joe Turner’s alleged lack of experience in phone systems is unwarranted as, during the scene immediately following Redford’s kidnapping of Dunaway,John Houseman et al. review Turner’s profile, at which point it’s revealed that he had a series of jobs with Bell Labs (presumably, that being the “Bell” of then Bell telephone) that included telephone lineman and switchboard maintenance. I’m not sure how this helped him land a job with the CIA reading books, but I thought this was, while convenient to the plot, pretty cool given his history in the signal corps while in the military (also reviewed at this point in the film), making his later actions completely believable in relation to the demands of the narrative.

    • November 5, 2012 9:26 am

      Haha. Well I’ll gladly award you that point as I totally missed that nod to Bell labs. Just wish they’d made that a little clearer I guess. Either way, not exactly a dealbreaker in relation to the movie as a whole. Good stuff nonetheless and thanks for the comment, man!

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