Watching Three Days of the Condor one – nearly without fail – will say “they just don’t make them like they used to anymore” or a similar sentiment. The film, which stars Robert Redford and was directed Sydney Pollack, is a political thriller which hits almost all the right notes – the action never overpowers the plot, the tension is palpable, and the story never feels dumbed down so as to satisfy the texting-while-watching lowest common denominator of viewer (it may be glossed over at times, but its never dumbed down).
The film finds Redford as Joseph Turner, aka Condor, a bookworm CIA agent. Turner, never a stickler for the rules of the spy business, manages to avoid getting killed along with the rest of his section by using a backdoor when he heads out for lunch. Unsure where to turn and panicked, Redford tries to turn to his CIA bosses for help, only to quickly become unsure of whom to trust.
Turner finds himself fumbling his way through the rest of picture, quickly realizing that he knows more tradecraft than he once thought and repeatedly escaping serious trouble. The viewer gets to go with Turner on this journey and becomes just as paranoid as him.
It is in his attempt to remain safe and hidden away that Turner finds Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), whom he just happens to kidnap. The dynamic between the two is a fascinating one – Turner isn’t actually a bad guy but has done a terrible thing in order to ensure his safety, Hale has to decide whether Turner is a good guy and therefore trustworthy or if he his the evil kidnapper he initially appears to be.
The film focuses on shades of gray in our world – shades of gray in relationships and shades of gray (and darker than that) in our politics. As Turner continues on his journey and learns exactly why his section was killed he comes face-to-face with unpleasant truths and an unpleasant gun-for-hire, Joubert (Max von Sydow). Joubert is the modern assassin – he works without any ideological bent, his sole motivation is cash in his pocket.
It is more than just a two-sided contest, it isn’t just the ideological versus the non-ideological. More than one ideology exists, and Turner not only must fight for his life, but he must learn who lies on his ideological side an who merely appears to.
Though a fantastic taut thriller that keeps the viewer enthralled from the opening credits through the finale, the film does fall down a little with the specific reasons for the events being set in motion. Though an explanation is provided, it isn’t a terribly satisfying one nor is it really ever fully explored – the film is more interested in the moral issues and the notion of the big-bad government than it is in the specifics.
However, Pollack, Redford, and the rest of the cast are able to make this glossing over acceptable – the specifics are, as Hitchcock would have said, the MacGuffin, and the film is very much in the Hitchcock mold. Turner is the classic Hitchcockian average guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances who must rise to the occasion. Though Hitchcock’s style is often imitated with poor effect, Pollack – a more than accomplished director in his on right – does a brilliant job here.
The biggest disappointment with the Blu-ray release is the dearth of special features included in the set. In fact, only one exists – the theatrical trailer. As for the technical side of the release, some slight amounts of dirt are noticeable early on in the film, and a few scratches exist here and there, but the transfer is still a very good one for a film that is more than 30 years old. There is a grain to the video that works beautifully with the 1970s’ New York that the film depicts. The colors, while muted, are intended to be so and convey the late-fall/early-winter season beautifully. The audio mix – 5.1 Dolby TrueHD – is also a good one, with clear tones and it squarely places one in the streets of New York alongside Redford as the world whizzes past him.
Three Days of the Condor is a classic political thriller with a great cast and questions about our society and politics which remain relevant even today. It doesn’t hit all the right notes, but it manages to get enough of them in to make the piece intriguing and enjoyable more than three decades after its initial release.