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Film Review

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

IMDB link
Running time: 1h 57min
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Written by James Grady (novel “Six Days of the Condor”), Lorenzo Semple Jr. (screenplay), David Rayfiel (screenplay)
Starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson

Three Days of the Condor is a spy thriller from 1975, based on the 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor. The film has aged relatively well considering its age – I cannot speak for the book, which is apparently quite different from the film version. Three Days of the Condor is still enjoyable entertainment – among other things, it has some memorable scenes and an excellent performance by legendary actor Max von Sydow (1929-2020). All of this makes it still well worth a watch in 2021, at least for those who enjoy spy thrillers and/or Sydow. Additionally, the film also has a great, dark tone that persists ever after things start to go badly for CIA bookworm Turner (Robert Redford) in the beginning. The film is not sheer brilliance from beginning to end, however – the beginning, and especially the ending, are superb, but the middle parts of the film do not, in my opinion, quite match those levels of quality.

TDotC is a time capsule to the 70s; it features a New York City that still has the twin towers standing. The tone of the film fits it perfectly: it is dark and cynical all the way to the end, with little dashes of positivity and hope sprinkled in. It is also a very critical look at the world of intelligence agencies and how they operate behind the scenes, though obviously I cannot judge how realistic it is. I am aware that CIA’s less than ethical conduct in the 20th century has been revealed to some extent to the public, though, which makes the film’s events more believable. In any case, TDotC will appeal to those who enjoy conspiracy theories, and the plot seems plausible enough – it does not exhibit ludicrousness à la James Bond. While I am sure a work of art/entertainment such as this cannot, for a multitude of reasons, be fully realistic, at least TDotC attempts to appear somewhat realistic.

The locations are something that the viewer might find interesting to watch, especially with real life experience of the same places decades later

The acting overall is good, but Max von Sydow is the definite standout as the infamous aged mercenary known as Joubert – though it must be said that his character is also the most intriguing, which is a credit to the writing instead of the acting. Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway as the leads work for the film but did not overly impress me with their performances. Cliff Robertson as Higgins is quite good, but, as with Joubert, partly that is because the script makes him more interesting than the leads. Then again, it should be noted, that while the script makes Joubert (Sydow) and Higgins (Robertson) stand out as interesting characters, it is also the script that does the opposite to Turner (Redford) and Kathy (Dunaway) – it is not the actors’ fault that the viewer might find them boring to follow in comparison.

Max von Sydow as Joubert is the best part of TDotC
Cliff Robertson as Higgins is almost as good as Sydow, but the character is not quite as interesting
Turner (Robert Redford), the CIA bookworm

On a technical level there is not much to complain about. There are not many action scenes, but there are some – most of them are done very well, especially considering it was 1975. Some of it is admittedly a bit clunky, though. The script is pretty good, though not perfect. It is a bit hard to follow at times, which masks some implausibility successfully, but can also confuse those not paying full attention. There are moments that do not make much sense, but luckily those are not very frequent. I suspect the relationship between Redford’s Turner and Dunaway’s Kathy would not have been written the way it was if the film were made in the 2020s. In any case, I do not have much of a problem with how it goes down in the film, but it is something that can be awkward to watch for someone who is used to more modern sensibilities.

Turner and Kathy (Faye Dunaway) have a complicated relationship

While the film has not aged perfectly (then again, is that ever the case?), as already stated, the ending is very good, and makes up for a lot of slack. Perhaps one of the things that one could unfairly hold against the film is how there have been so many spy films made after 1975 that TDotC seems a bit cliched or tame in comparison. As with other 70s films, the pacing is slower than what a viewer from nowadays is probably used to – that can be positive, negative, or neutral, depending on the person and their tastes. Pollack does a fine job directing.

Three Days of the Condor is quite good, but not quite excellent, in my opinion. Regrettably, I watched the film on a poor-quality DVD copy I own, so I was not able to appreciate the cinematography or sound design, and mostly paid attention to the story instead. It is possible I would appreciate the film more with proper picture and sound quality. The film certainly has some moments that do not quite fully work, but despite that, it is still well worth watching for enjoyers of spy thrillers. The best part of the film is quite clearly Max von Sydow as Joubert, but he is sadly not in it for very long of its running time. Then again, part of his character’s appeal is how enigmatic he is, and if he were to be in the film more, some of the charm might be diminished. With that said, a feature film or even a prequel about Joubert could have been wonderful – at least with Sydow in the role.

Rating: 7.0 / 10

Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: 1

Would I want to rewatch this film? Sure, at some point, hopefully with bluray quality

More of Sydow as Joubert could have been great

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