Sydney Pollack was the ultimate filmmaker for adults. He made thrilling, funny, exciting, and dramatic films that spanned all genres but they all shared two very specific attributes. They were made to be entertaining. And they were made for adults. That can be hard to grasp in today’s movie climate in which all studio action movies and thrillers are geared towards pre-teens and teenagers but 1975’s Three Days of the Condor is Pollack at his ultimate best. Pollack creates a tense, claustrophobic thriller that is as thrilling as any paperback by Ludlum or the other great thriller writers.
Robert Redford, in a great movie star turn, stars as meek CIA researcher Joseph Turner who is thrust into the wider world of espionage and assassins when he finds his co-workers at the CIA substation murdered. Suspicion is drawn toward him so now he must maneuver through New York City looking for clues to why someone in the CIA wants him dead and must find out who he can ultimately trust. Faye Dunaway plays Kathy Hale, a citizen uninvolved with any of it who he ultimately romances and pulls into his suddenly dangerous world.
This is not a gritty story or a hard boiled story by any means. Redford and Dunaway’s romantic scenes are shot lovingly with the gloss of high powered movie stars gliding towards each other, inching towards what is ultimately the audience’s desire to see two attractive movie stars get hot and heavy. Redford’s natural charisma floats him through on a performance that is all about his own paranoia and the fears of what we don’t know about the world we live in.
What the film ultimately does best is build to great tense moments. There is a moment on an elevator in a New York City apartment building between Redford and Max von Sydow, who gives a great, menacing performance as an imposing assassin stalking over our protagonist hero that builds and ebbs and flows to an ultimate crescendo that leaves the viewer on the edge of their seats. This is just one of many scenes that are shot with a paranoid sense of claustrophobia and fear of the known and unknown that creates a jarring effect when shot in one of the most populous cities in the world. Three Days of the Condor is one of the greatest suspense thrillers of all time and is representative of a form of 70’s filmmaking that just doesn’t quite get made as much as it should anymore.