Because our feature film was directed by Sydney Pollack, I decided to find a web clip of a “short” of his. It’s not anything that’s a credited film, per se, rather it’s a “public service announcement” designed to remind moviegoers to turn off their cell phones.
You can watch the whole thing and decide for yourself that it’s wryly hilarious. Note that I have told you your decision.
After that short one-minute diversion, we got straight to the feature film, Three Days of the Condor. The screenplay was abridged from a novel called “Six Days of the Condor”, but it would seem that they left out most of the plot.
Robert Redford plays a CIA analyst excitingly named Joe Turner, but we might as well just call him by his code name, “Condor”. Condor works about the dullest (and most unreasonable) CIA job possible – he works in an office disguised as a historical institute reading books, meaning novels, and looks for unusual patterns which he passes off to his superiors. And he often gets stuck with going out to pick up lunch.
One day, after he has submitted a boring report on a boring mystery book re-published in strange and boring languages like Spanish, Arabic, and Dutch, his entire office is murdered in a surgical strike while he’s out getting lunch. This really spooks him, because he’s only an analyst (kind of like Jack Ryan, but not anywhere near as cool). And it appears that the job was an inside one, because when he calls in to the CIA to get picked up, they ambush him. Condor escapes, but he’s got no real choice but to take a hostage to get a car.
Kathy, who was getting some equipment for a ski trip that her boyfriend had already left on, is the lucky victim. If we can call her a victim, that is. After Condor retreats to her home, she protests about his (really delicate – he’s an analyst, remember) treatment of her. Condor gets indignant and asks, “Have I raped you?!?” “The night is young” is Kathy’s brilliant reply – and indeed it turns out that the night was young. By morning, Kathy has already gone Stockholm over Condor, leading to some hanky-panky, as I believe they called it in 1975.
What follows is a bit of a muddle. Condor manages to talk to a high-level CIA agent (Higgins) without being taken in, and learns that there may be a rogue element inside the CIA trying to take him out (not like that one was much of a secret). He does learn the identity of his main pursuer, a former CIA operative and current freelancing Frenchman named Joubert (not at ALL to be confused with the antagonist/pursuer/Frenchman of Les Miserables, “Javert”, because of course Javert was still in the employ of the police – TOTALLY DIFFERENT).
Inspector Javert Joubert learns of Condor’s hideout and sends an underling to take him out, a mistake he will not repeat. No highly-trained mercenary underling with the element of surprise on his side is the match for Analyst Condor and his Beerbelly of Death!
Condor continues to frustrate both the CIA’s and Joubert’s attempts to bring him in, and learns that there’s another, higher-up CIA dude – we’ll call him “Atwood” (thanks, IMDB!!) – may be responsible for calling in the hit on his office. So Condor breaks into Atwood’s house.
While holding Atwood at gunpoint, Condor comes to a revelation – it’s all about OIL! OF COURSE! (Because there was a book published in Spanish and there are oil fields in Venezuela, and it was also published in Arabic, and there are oil fields all over the Middle East, and it was also published in Dutch, and there are…a lot of people with oily hair in the Netherlands. Or something like that.) Believe me, it makes perfect sense to Condor and Atwood doesn’t even try to bluff him off the scent. He just cops to it. Yes, it was all about oil, you brilliant analyst, you!
I would say that the “oil” revelation is where the movie went completely off the rails, if it hadn’t already done so many times before, Faye Dunaway’s Stockholming probably the first. This really is probably where the movie would have been better served to have covered six days instead of three. Instead, we get our oleum ex machina and have it followed up by…the appearance of Joubert! Condor is finished! Or at least he would be, except that Joubert walks up to his employer Atwood, then casually BAM! shoots him (Atwood) in the head. His, shall we say, former employer. I’ll admit, it was a good moment.
See, somebody higher up at the CIA paid him more, so…he’s letting Condor go. Condor isn’t part of the job. He even offers Condor a position in his European Mercenary Consortium, but Condor declines, opting instead to sell his story to the New York Times. He has one final inconsequential run-in with Higgins wherein the neo-Malthusian Higgins explains that the whole thing is about control of scarce commodities. Today, oil. In fifteen years, food. (Oops! Somebody’s been reading too much Erlich!) And that’s about it.
Look, I’m not making any bones about it, I’m mocking this movie. I’m mocking its bocka-chicka-wow soundtrack. I’m mocking its post-Watergate-everything-the-government-does-is-a-conspiracy commercial appeal. I’m mocking its incomplete plot with its unexplainable and uninteresting twists, I’m mocking its facile solution, I’m even mocking its passing reference to failed prophecies.
Outside of Joubert shooting Atwood and “The night is young”, there’s not much to love about this movie. It starts at point A, it gets to point C, it kind of skips around point B but does try to explain that point B exists, over there on the other side of the hill where you can’t see it. My enthusiasm is unbounded, but only because enthusiasm is an abstract concept and not subject to fences.