Lethal, cold, smart, and totally gripping, Sydney Pollack’s classic spy film Three Days of the Condor is a top-class genre entry, benefitting from its post-Watergate, paranoia induced atmosphere, with a charismatic star turn by Robert Redford as CIA codebreaker Joe Turner, an unassuming worker-bee who comes to the office one morning and finds all of his co-workers executed. Totally alarmed by the situation, Turner flees the scene, and reports the incident to his duplicitous bosses, who then set a menacing hitman, played by the legendary Max von Sydow in a silently ruthless bit of acting, to dispatch of him. Who, if anyone, can Turner trust, and will it be possible to escape the nefarious clutches of crooked government agents? Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel’s lean and graceful screenplay cut away any sense of narrative fat in favor of forward moving plotting with credible dialogue and exciting bursts of violent action. The supporting cast, including a gorgeous Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Addison Powell, and John Houseman, all provided excellent counterpoints to Redford’s leading-man heroics, which never end up going over the top, which keeps the film relatively grounded for the genre. Dave Grusin’s moody score provided an ominous tone right from the start, and as usual, Owen Roizman’s crisp and clean cinematography exerted a clarity and visceral force that kept everything in the moment and tension-filled, while Don Guidice’s expert editing made terrific use of jump-cutting, while also demonstrating a clear understanding of how long to keep any given scene going; this film feels needle-point precise. This is a film that has aged like a fine wine, and one that’s always worth a revisit.
Sidney Pollack’s The Yakuza, released in America in 1975 after a Japanese premiere a year earlier, is a unique neo-noir gangster hybrid boasting an excellent script written by Leonard Schrader, Paul Schrader, and Robert Towne. Despite not being a box office hit at the time, the film has certainly gained a cult following over the years, and it was a movie that had always escaped my grasp. I’m so glad I finally caught up with this exceedingly entertaining drama, one that’s spiked with some truly great action scenes and a narrative that’s engaging on a story and emotional level. Featuring a solid-as-oak Robert Mitchum as an ex-private investigator who returns to Japan in an effort to rescue the kidnapped daughter of his friend, there’s a distinctive quality to this movie that’s hard to describe. There’s a great mix of hard-core shoot-outs and bloody sword play, Dave Grusin’s music supplied tension and grandiosity in equal measure, and the thoughtful and at times ruminative screenplay stressed character and motivation and thematic context rather than being an empty display of action. Ken Takakura provided more than just a steely gaze, injecting the film with a sense of lethality and wisdom, while supporting cast members Brian Keith, Richard Jordan and Herb Edelman made the most out of their distinctive roles. Especially Jordan, whose unique face was able to convey just as much information than the script ever could. But it’s Mitchum who totally owned the picture, bringing his customary gruff line delivery and masculine sense of purpose to this exotic and violent story that traded off of noir tropes and the demands of the action picture in equal measure, with Pollack’s sure and steady directorial hand bringing it all together in a very elegant, crisp fashion. The rich screenplay investigated themes of moral and social expectations on the part of the Japanese culture, and how familial loyalty and personal friendship can be tested through the differing viewpoints of Eastern and Western school of thought. Ridley Scott and his creative team would heavily borrow from this film for the 80’s classic Black Rain, and clearly, this must be a favorite for Quentin Tarantino.