Robert Redford plays a CIA researcher who is sent on the run when he discovers his six coworkers dead, in Sydney Pollock’s 1975 paranoid thriller Three Days Of The Condor. Pollock creates an atmospheric New York setting, beautifully utilizing the city’s most notable landmarks, and frames the city as an imposing backdrop.
Another notable aspect of filmmaking present is Pollock doing a great job of showing and not telling, despite the large amount of information that is dispersed throughout the film. Joseph Turner is sent out to grab a lunch order at the local restaurant down the block. Meanwhile, a group of three men efficiently shoot and kill all of Turner’s colleagues.
The scene is all the more disturbing with the constant singular sound of the mechanical machinery at work. Turner returns to the office, horrified, and scrambles out into public, and rushes to a payphone. He calls CIA headquarters, and while relaying the attack he runs into bureaucratic rules and regulations. He’s finally told to not go home and resurface in two hours, and call again.
We end up learning that there is a group within the CIA, acting independently, who upon receiving Turner’s report on oil in the Middle East, decides to neutralize the researcher and his group. Always on the run and unable to trust anyone, Turner kidnaps Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), a random woman, when hiding in a clothing store. Despite being kidnapped Kathy develops feelings for Turner and they end up sleeping together. This is one of the more eye roll movie aspects of the film, that it could have honestly done without.
Kathy will end up being sympathetic to Turner’s cause regardless, because she becomes witness to the assassination attempts on his life throughout the film. But Redford and Dunaway make up for this in all of their other scenes together, showcasing a closeness, especially toward the end of the film. Watching the story progress, the feeling of paranoia, dread, and creeping doubt oozes into the mood of Three Days Of The Condor.
Seeing the interior machinations of the CIA, poking and prodding Turner’s file for any kind of weakness trying to find any possible way to trip him up, is chilling. The ruthlessness that the CIA shows, regardless of who is behind the direct order in question, is brutal and efficient and without doubt. That this is an organization that will do whatever it takes to cover it’s tracks, mistakes, embarrassments, and blatant immorality. Executing secret murders of it’s own employees to avoid public embarrassment. That’s quite a chilling realization, and built narrative, that sits with you long after the credits have rolled.
All of the killings are so cleanly done, and so disturbingly captured, almost having a lifeless quality to them. When Turner utilizes a gun it’s almost always in a clumsy and haphazard way, in comparison to the assassins, he really seems human.
I’ve never been a big fan of Robert Redford and his acting, but I must say I think his performance here in Three Days Of The Condor is one of the best of his career. He showcases an amazing range of non verbal actions simply with his face, and we completely become immersed into the film’s world by the sheer horror on Redford’s face. He plays a man who is plied with falsehoods and half truths every step of the way, by his contacts at the CIA and nearly everyone he comes into contact with.
Turner is a defensive and paranoid individual by the end of the film, and after what we’ve seen him go through, he really can’t be blamed. Cliff Robertson plays Turner’s main contact at the CIA, Higgins. Robertson’s performance demands attention in all of his scenes, playing both his superiors as well as Turner. His commanding and authoritative presence matches Redford well in their scenes together, and manages to heighten the tension and dread of the moment.
The lasting feelings I’m left with after watching Three Days Of The Condor is suspicion, paranoia, and insignificance. That we live in a democracy where things may happen in an undemocratic manner, where secret things happen all of the time. Certainly there are real life examples of the CIA and their meddling in other countries and moral failings. This film does a great job of highlighting a potential circumstance, and the complete terror of being caught in the middle of it. Three Days Of The Condor is a wonderfully crafted paranoid thriller made by Sydney Pollock that affects me like a great horror film. Watching it I found myself frequently on edge and quite affected by it’s action, it honestly scares me more than anything I’ve seen.