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Three Days of the Condor
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by Jay Seaver

"Such an efficient thriller that it has three days to spare."
4 stars

"Three Days of the Condor" was a hit in its day, and even now the title causes one to perk up when coming upon it when scanning the filmographies of the people involved: Even those who haven't seen it know that it's a big piece of the good reputations of folks like Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack. And while styles have changed enough that it's maybe not considered as essential as it once was, it's still a quality spy story that deserves to be considered a plus on the IMDB pages of its cast and crew.

Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) works for the CIA, but not as an asset or even an analyst, really, but as a reader - he's part of a group that pores through everything published in the world, looking for odd patterns or stories that hit too close to home. It's so far from secret-agent stuff that he forgets he even has a code name until he returns from getting lunch to find his co-workers murdered. He contacts people higher up in the agency, but can he really trust Higgins (Cliff Robertson) or anyone else there? And it's not like Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), the random civilian he takes hostage, has any reason to trust him.

The plot of Three Days of the Condor could be transplanted to the present day without much modification; the world hasn't changed that much. The characters would use the computer more and punchcards less, and of course cell phones would replace telephone booths (I wonder if veteran spies grumble about the cost of a disposable phone versus the spare change a pay phone took). There can be little argument that the screenplay by Lorenzo Semple and David Rayfiel is plenty efficient, considering that the name of the James Grady novel being adapted is "Six Days of the Condor", and that winds up being a somewhat interesting contrast of narrative demands: As fast as the pursuit of Condor must be for the villains to seem effective, the relationship between him and Kathy needs a little time to play out.

Faye Dunaway does get a little shortchanged as a result; she's thoroughly believable threatened and an enjoyable (if wary) accomplice, but getting from A to B does rely on a whole lot of "well, she was kidnapped by 1970s Robert Redford!" And speaking of him, Redford is in fine form, playing a book-smart sort of everyman despite his character's employer. He's able to make Turner nervous from the moment when things go south on without making him twitchy or too smooth for sympathy. As a pair, Redford and Dunaway work quite well together; early scenes especially do a nice job of having them terrified for separate reasons.

There's also a very nice supporting cast underneath, most notably Max von Sydow as the assassin charged with cleaning up the mess. He's got an apologetic dignity that might be played as a joke in other movies but is simply a personality here, and all the more enjoyable for not yet being the screen persona he has honed since then. There's a nice contrast between Cliff Robertson and Addison Powell as the bureaucrats trying to puzzle out what the deal is with Turner. I wish John Houseman was still around to play elderly authority figures, and that Tina Chen lasted longer in this one.

That's part of what Sydney Pollack does well here, building situations out of small details rather than pushing how important what Turner has found must be. Even with a potentially complex conspiracy in the offing, what's going on is always clear. It's also impressive just how much even the scenes within the CIA, with occasionally surreal environs, have a sense of normality and routine, reinforcing the idea of wheels within wheels and secrets behind secrets.

It may not all add up quite to "classic" status, but it comes pretty close. It's tense and puts the clamps on both the Condor and the audience. It's not flashy, but it gets the job done better than many.

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originally posted: 10/16/12 14:18:24
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User Comments

8/27/09 Justin Great movie. Faye Dunaway looked very boneable in 1975. 5 stars
2/18/08 Pamela White modern well planned suspense movie 4 stars
10/20/05 R.W.Welch Above average Lone-Man-versus-Vast-Conspiracy pic. Very well paced. 4 stars
10/20/05 tatum I've seen worse 4 stars
10/19/05 Jack Sommersby Not the most air-tight plotting, but it's crisp and efficient (nothing more). 4 stars
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  24-Sep-1975 (R)
  DVD: 17-Aug-1999


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