Stirred up by all the chatter about The Winter Soldier
, I decided to go back and re-watch a real 70s espionage/can-we-trust-our-own-government movie, specifically the one that is so often trotted out as a sort of spiritual ancestor to the Marvel film.
Here we have the story of a quirky young CIA researcher, not trained as a field-agent, who goes out for lunch and comes back to find everyone dead. His whole office is murdered, including his girlfriend, and he's off on the run. Not knowing who to trust or where to begin, he kidnaps a woman at gunpoint. Because that's what you do.
This is a movie I have historically admired but I remembered being troubled by something about it and watching it probably 16 years after my most recent viewing and 30 years after my first, I was reminded very quickly what it was. For all that the film does so well to be admired after all this time, it also has one major problem that sticks out like a sore thumb. I am speaking, of course, about the super-awkward, totally Stockholm Syndrome, shoe-horned-in, frankly kinda gross romance between Redford, who earlier in the same day as their first coital encounter, has found 6 of his co-workers murdered, and held his dead girlfriend’s body in his arms, and Dunaway, who earlier that same day was abducted at gunpoint by Redford and later tied to the toilet and gagged with her own stockings. Yet here they are, passionately boning and in the morning, after a night of sleep (during which Dunaway does not try to escape her captor), she
is apologizing to him
behavior! No joke, in reacting to the fact that she has just had sex with a man who abducted her at gunpoint, she has somehow transgressed and broken trust and apologizes. Somehow we are to see this whole situation as believable and even more strangely as spontaneous romance between captor and captive, rather than borderline rape, some kind of mental illness, or simply utterly unbelievable behavior from the “female lead” (read, supporting character) written into the script because her motivation doesn't matter as long as it moves the script.
Honestly, this was such a distraction for me it was hard to just roll with the movie. The plot hinges enough on how much her character helps, by breaking the law and putting herself in situations for which she could probably spend life in prison to a help a man she met yesterday, Redford in his mission to save himself from assassination and delve down to the truth. But there is absolutely no reason she should, it is absolutely nuts that any of this happens, and it makes the whole film just unbelievable. I have considered much lately about how women have historically had to navigate the Hollywood system and really, I think Three Days Of The Condor might be the best example I’ve seen in a long time. The idea that this was a good role for an A-list woman like Faye Dunaway just because she is so good in it, when in fact it is a role in which a seemingly independent woman completely loses even any sense of self-preservation the moment a handsome man comes abducting. I was troubled.
Anyway, the Robert Redford parts of the movie are good and work well even if there is ultimately a lot of him just suddenly realizing the next important plot point and saying it out loud (to the audience) and then Cliff Robertson explaining the details (to the audience). There are some really good scenes and really good moments, including one from John Houseman. Max von Sydow doesn’t shine so much as steal every scene he’s in, even from the camera-seducing Redford, without so much as clearing his throat.
Sydney Pollack does do another really nice job directing here, the film moves, it has tension, it has suspense, it has a good feel. The script is imperfect but eventually gets where it's going with some help from some eureka-moments and expository dialogue. Ultimately, it’s a good thriller, if not a great one, but really carries some very, very troublesome baggage.