Three Days of the Condor Review


The decade of the 1970s were a tumultuous one for Americans—war, scandal, oil crises, etc. As a result, many people thought the government was untrustworthy, the enemy. Three Days of the Condor is a terrific thriller that preys on that distrust. It portrays the government as the ultimate big brother and as willing to manipulate, distort, lie, and even kill to achieve its goals, which makes for an engaging, thrilling motion picture.

The hero of the story is Joe Turner (Robert Redford). Joe works for the “American Literary Historical Society,” which is actually a branch of the CIA. He isn’t a field agent, just a bookworm. One day, when he goes out for lunch, everyone in the office is murdered. Joe, whose codename is Condor, comes back stunned and goes on the run. When he calls in to headquarters, a meeting is arranged. But at said meeting, a shootout ensues, killing one, hospitalizing another, and making Joe an enemy of the state. He has no allies, and no training, but he gets an assist from a woman, Kathy (Faye Dunaway), whom he kidnaps. Soon, she’s drawn in, and the two of them have to outsmart an assassin and try to uncover why everyone Joe knew is dead.

Three Days of the Condor succeeds best because it has a perfect sense of time—in more than one sense of the word. First, Pollack has only 72 hours in which to set his story. Therefore, the pacing is very deliberate and fast-moving. Characters don’t walk; they run. The only pause Joe takes in solving this mystery is to sleep with Kathy (although it’s a very awkward, almost laughable love scene, to be frank).

The other way the film’s sense of time works for it is what I discussed earlier—that it captures the paranoia evident in 1970s America. Shortly after Watergate, viewers probably had no problem accepting the idea that the government is out to get them (something many people don’t have a hard time thinking today). Joe is even more likeable and heroic because he takes on the power of whole system. It’s a real David vs. Goliath tale, and while I took issue with some of the ways in which Joe gets the upper hand on his enemies, I found him to be a hero that was very easy to root for.

Robert Redford isn’t the most skilled actor in film history, but this is the kind of role he excels in most. Like his character in All the President’s Men, Joe doesn’t emote very much. He looks worried a lot, and he yells at people a few times. But for the most part, he just goes from place to place, trying to clear his name. On the other hand, Faye Dunaway, who is one of my all-time favorite actresses, actually struggles a bit. Her character is very passive, and she doesn’t do much to make us connect with her. Great supporting work is provided by Max von Sydow and Cliff Robertson as an assassin and CIA handler respectively.

The one problem I had with the film is that Joe, who is supposed to be nothing more than a researcher for the Agency, often does some things outside of his pay grade. In other words, his tactics for finding the truth are things Jason Bourne or 007 might not even think of. Still, I enjoyed this film quite a bit. It shows the fear that was rampant in society at this time and gives us a hero we truly want to see win in the end.

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