Robert Redford is always on the move in his pictures. In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he was on the run from the law; in The Sting, he’s constantly circling his mark; and in A Walk in the Woods, he’s simply walking. The peak-Redford era hit Three Days of the Condor, receiving a magnificent Blu-ray release, sees the veteran actor doing his best to keep hitmen off his scent, while figuring out a conspiracy that engulfs not only him, but the entire US – and as it starkly questions just how secure national security is, it also confirms that the best Redford is one in motion.
Joseph Turner (Redford) works as a lowly researcher for the CIA. His team’s job? To read absolutely every piece of literature in the world, be it novels, historical documents, poetry, legislation, in order to search for any hidden codes or patterns unknown to the populace. One day, while out at lunch and taking a secret back-route out of his office, his workmates are all killed by official-looking intruders; when he finds them dead and realises that his literal gut feeling saved his life, he goes into hiding to elude his would-be assassins. Turner must use every inch of cunning, wit and charm to escape the clutches of those trying to kill him, and keep two steps ahead of them at all times – although his escape delivers unexpected detours. Largely hiding out in the apartment of a random stranger, Kathy (Faye Dunaway), he finds something approaching romance under the unlikeliest of circumstances, and soon discovers that those hunting him may not be too unfamiliar after all.
Sydney Pollack is a director who can distil tremendous character from the most basic of stories; each scene juggles knife-point tension and Redford’s natural charisma to a tee. But the greatest way in which the actor serves his movies is his outward vulnerability; if Three Days of the Condor was made today, an invincible action hunk would be cast in his role, whose only apparent weakness would be that he isn’t bulletproof. The very strength of Redford – and other great actors of the same calibre, or era – actually lie in those weaknesses; the highest-functioning notion of this classic is that it tears down the walls of masculinity, even though it happens to be a movie where men shoot other men with big guns. Redford soon learns that while he doesn’t have the (ahem) biggest gun, he doesn’t actually need one to outfox the near-death experiences being flung his way, each one closer to the edge of no return than the last. One of these men with guns is Max von Sydow’s soft-spoken killer, hired to take Turner out by any means necessary; it’s a turn typical of Sydow’s mastery in finding profound menace in quietness.
Aside from the central conspiracy plot, perhaps the most contentious aspect of the film for modern eyes is also its most gripping: Turner and his captive Kathy’s blossoming romance. Dunaway’s parley with Redford is scintillating and scary, and could easily be argued as the result of Stockholm Syndrome – but Pollack designs these scenes with such precision that while they skirt the edge of taste, a core relationship is forged that is wincingly improbable, but entirely believable.
Released in 1975, serving as a spiritual counterpart to the other Redford-thriller classic All the President’s Men which would be released only a year later, Three Days of the Condor deftly reflects the paranoia of a post-war nation whose highest powers are sources of suspicion, not trust. Sound familiar?
Three Days of the Condor is available on Blu-ray from Eureka on April 11, as part of their Masters of Cinema series.