Rates: * * *
Why Did I Watch It? This popped up on my letterboxd feed and I’d not seen it before.
Robert Redford is a nerdy CIA agent, codenamed Condor, who gets mixed up in some company business when the other members of his section are brutally murdered. On the run, unsure of who to trust, Redford has to overcome his lack of field skills to uncover a dirty, deep state conspiracy.
He will be aided by Faye Dunaway, an artsy civilian who he initially takes hostage, before she is overcome by his charms. And this part, is the movie’s biggest problem.
You can sortof see what director Sydney Pollack and his screenwriters were going for. Redford had been a successful romantic leading man, and they are trying to create a subplot where he woos his leading lady during the course of a fun adventure. Only, this is the mid 70s, and so this has to be spliced onto a grim political thriller, where everyone is corrupt, and everything is worse than it appears. In the shadow of Watergate, Nixon had resigned just the year before, there was nothing Americans thought their government wouldn’t stoop to; in this movie, a rogue CIA director trying to trigger a war in the middle east so the US can invade.
The scenario doesn’t seem that far fetched even now, but the hard bitten violence and cynicism sits awkwardly alongside Dunaway showing her black and white photos to Redford while the two flirt. And everything about Dunaway’s character is wrongheaded; Redford never does anything to confirm his wild sounding story, but still she goes from angry hostage to willing helper in an instant, and so you never have any sense of her motivations, beyond that she thinks he’s pretty hot. Dunaway is a wonderful actress, but no one could do anything with this character. There is also one very awkward scene, where Redford forces her to lie in bed with him, so he knows she won’t escape while he takes a nap.
Despite this, some of the covert, thriller-y stuff does work; the best part of which is Max von Sydow’s silky performance as the sinister assassin Joubert, a man for whom ‘loyalty’ is an amusing and foreign concept. There is also a nice bit of 1970s New York flavour, as the movie was shot on real city locations, now long gone.
The whole thing, actually, works best as a time capsule. Redford and Dunaway are both retired, Pollack has sadly passed, people in 2020 just accept that their governments lie, and Hollywood has given up on making movies like this one.