“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 globetrotting 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 ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 70 mbps. The film was shot on 35mm so is native 4K. There has also been extensive restoration here, and it shows. I think you’ll find there’s improvement in every aspect of the film. The HDR/Dolby Vision brings out the natural colors without changing the attributes of the 70’s film stock. The grain remains to provide that organic touch to the film’s atmosphere. You’ll find nicer shading in the black levels for more shadow definition, and you’ll see more depth and clarity in the well-lit aspects of the film. In every case textures and detail are far superior to any previous Blu-ray release.
You get both the more recent DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and the original 2.0 Mono presentation. The surround mix is not aggressive and does not interfere with the original intent of the source material. They merely allow a slight separation in some ambient sounds and along with the sub add some depth that fills out the dialog nicely. It’s not a terribly active film outside of the early office massacre, and so the audio presentation remains subtle and there to serve the dialog. And it does that well.
Something About Sydney Pollack: (59:05) This is a documentary on the director. There’s a bit of bio info with vintage stills of his early life. Mostly Pollack himself guides us from film to film. It was made as he was preparing for The Interpreter with Nicole Kidman. Plenty of interview footage with both Pollack and Robert Redford.
More About The Condor: (24:57) This is really an extension of the documentary. Same interview settings and also some footage. It basically just focuses on the film.
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.”