“Don’t expect too many mistakes from this man. After all he does seem rather more interesting than just another reader researcher. For example; has he gone into business for himself? Was he turned around? Does someone operate him? Is he homosexual? Broke? Vulnerable? Could he be a soldier of fortune? Did he arrange the hit? Is that why he’s still in flight? Still, he may be innocent. But why didn’t he come in gently?”
Sydney Pollack might have been channeling the essence of Alfred Hitchcock when he directed 3 Days Of The Condor. It’s hard not to see the similarities to some of Hitch’s work. But he might also have been having a bit of precognition at the same time. The later novels and films about Jason Bourne bear a striking resemblance to this 1975 thriller. Whatever connection Pollack might have been making, he managed to direct a film that was timeless while being very much a product of its time. We are reminded of that long gone era of the 1970’s with generous shots of the just built World Trade Center towers. Ads and shots of Eastern Airlines planes bring back some memories. These images securely place the action in a specific time. Still, it works maybe even more today than it did in 1975.
Joseph Turner, or Condor (Redford) works as a “reader” for the CIA. He’s not a field agent. He’s a kind of analyst. His job is to read publications of all types, novels, magazines, newspapers, and journals. He’s looking for nothing in particular, but everything at the same time. He might find a hidden code or a new idea. He might uncover a security breach where information was leaked to someone. It’s a peaceful job far away from the espionage and adventure the agency is best associated with. One day he is making a lunch run for his colleagues. Upon his return he discovers the office has been hit. Everyone is dead. Frightened he grabs the secretary’s gun and flees out into the street. He contacts the head office. He’s acting as if in a dream. He’s told to go underground for two hours and call back. What Turner doesn’t know….yet, is that there is a shadow group inside the CIA. One of his reports has disturbed them and their plans. Now they want him dead, and Turner can’t tell who in the company he can trust. He’s set up for murder so that even the good guys are after him, not sure if he can be trusted. Turner kidnaps a woman, Kathy (Dunaway) and attempts to hide out in her apartment. All he needs is a way out, but how is he going to do that?
The film was based on the popular novel by James Grady, who gave Condor 6 days. The comparisons to Bourne are many. While Turner isn’t suffering from amnesia and hasn’t been trained as a killer, he finds himself fighting his own agency with very little information to go on. Like Bourne, he abducts a female accomplice who eventually trusts him. Where the comparisons end is in the very style of the film. Condor doesn’t rely on globe trotting to exotic locations. There don’t need to be car chases and death defying stunts. This film relies on the tight story and our identifying with Turner. It’s hard to identify with someone who has Bourne’s skills, but Turner is one of us. We have the same problem Turner has. We have to figure out who the good guys and bad guys are merely by a certain look in their eye, or the way they talk. There’s not a lot of mind numbing exposition dialog here, and yet we manage to learn all that we need to know. Pollack didn’t believe it was necessary to treat the audience as if they were idiots. By today’s standards I’m afraid anyone under 35 will find the film to be tedious and boring. There’s no patience with subtlety in a thriller anymore.
3 Days Of The Condor is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. This is not going to be one of those showcase discs in your collection. There is a considerable amount of grain, but I am thankful to see it retained. There’s not a lot of that annoying digital noise reduction to mess up the atmosphere Pollack worked so hard to achieve. While not an outstanding image, it is extremely sharp and true to the original theater experience. Colors remain natural, but obviously dated by the film stock and lighting techniques. This is a good example of how vintage films really need to be mastered into their high definition releases.
The Dolby TrueHD Audio track does a lot without doing too much. The new mix is very subtle here and shouldn’t be judged on its lack of aggressiveness. The surrounds are used merely to provide a bit wider and more dynamic sound. It never intrudes on the original intent at all. Dialog is perfect, and that’s what you’re looking for anyway.
Today thriller means constant motion and sensory overload. Don’t get me wrong. I love that stuff as well. But watching Condor makes me realize that this kind of movie is a lost art. They just couldn’t make a film like that today. “It’s just simple economics.”