Monday, March 22, 2010

Three Days of the Condor

Three Days of the Condor is a Robert Redford thriller based on the novel, Six Days of the Condor, by James Grady.  I'm assuming that the tag line for the film was "All the thrills of the book in half the time!"  The director was a frequent Redford collaborator, Sydney Pollack.  I'm  not a huge fan of Redford or Pollack, to be honest --- I'm sure they make good films, but they rarely pique my interest --- but this one is actually pretty solid.

This film has a sense of plausibility that rings true, and it feels like the flip side of Redford's Spy Game.  In that movie, Redford is the ultimate CIA insider, pulling strings and playing games to get things done; in Condor, Redford is a novice in the spy game, trying to figure out what the pros are doing.

The plot is relatively simple for a spy movie.  Redford works, in a non-spy capacity, for the CIA.  His job, and that of his entire department, is to read fiction and enter the relevant plots and codes into a computer, which compares the fictional data with actual CIA missions (planned or otherwise).  One day, while Redford is out getting lunch for the office, his entire department is assassinated.  Suitably alarmed, he contacts his superiors at the CIA to arrange for them to take him into protective custody.  This would make for a short movie, but it turns out that he is double crossed, and is almost killed at the pick up.  From that point on, Redford has to use his own knowledge of CIA plots to figure out why somebody wants him dead.  Like I said, it's not a terribly complicated plot.  In fact, there is a part where Redford has been up all night trying to puzzle out his situation and the camera shows the paper he has been writing on; the paper had maybe four things on it.  Whoa, there, Robert!  Don't get caught up in the details!

With a plot that sparse, the actors must carry a heavier load.  Here, Redford does a fine job as a man out of his element, but clever enough to know what to do and how to counter some basic spy techniques.  Faye Dunaway plays a random woman that Redford forces to help him, and her character's emotional arc is pretty natural. Still, I think being kidnapped, more or less, by someone who looks like Robert Redford made her character's compliance a little more believable.  Somehow I doubt that John Cazale would have had such an easy time telling a beautiful woman "I'm not going to hurt you, I just need some place to rest."  Well, he could say that, but he wake up in prison.  Max von Sydow does a very good job playing an assassin-for-hire.  His second scene with Redford was both charming and disconcerting at the same time.  Unfortunately, he only shares the screen with Redford twice; the rest of his scenes show significantly less depth and character.  Cliff Robertson (Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man movies) is Redford's CIA contact; his everyman looks may lend credibility to the role, but I felt that his acting was mediocre.  Not good, not bad, but maybe just a little above Charles Bronson.

Overall, the lack of a convoluted plot was refreshing to see in a spy movie.  Redford and Dunaway did their jobs well, and von Sydow turned in one of his better performances here.


  1. Okay, so I would just like to say that the job Robert Redford had at the CIA--you know, before the assassinations and double crossing--that is totally my DREAM job. I have said numerous times that I would love a job that just required me to read all day. Does that really exist? Because if so, the CIA can totally sign me up.

  2. It's called Open Source Intelligence. There are some schools that do it as well as the regular intelligence agencies. My guess is that Redford reading (mostly) fiction is a best case scenario. My guess is that legal and business documents would tend to be the reading material.