An effective spy thriller, in keeping with the post-Watergate cynicism and paranoia of so many American films (The Parallax View, Executive Action, The Conversation, Winter Kills). Robert Redford is a lowly CIA analyst at a New York City agency front (a historical society) who comes back from lunch one day to find all of his co-workers gunned down. Redford goes on the run, commandeering Faye Dunaway, and as he flees the hitmen (led by Max Von Sydow) and negotiates with the Agency rep (Cliff Robertson), he woos Dunaway and uncovers the reason for the murders. Needless to say, that reason is of the times.
There are problems. Redford can be intense, but he cannot be harried or excitable. As such, he handles some pretty shocking developments in a discordantly world-weary way. As far as the plot, despite all the cloak-and-dagger, it’s very bare bones. The film is also horribly scored, sporting a 70s saxophone that makes the dullest love scene ridiculous. Redford and Dunaway don’t seem to be having sex so much as playing the “who blinks first” game.
Dunaway, however, is quite good, managing to convey a captive’s ability to bond with her captor, and as an Agency “contractor”, Von Sydow is understated and interesting. Robertson is also given respect, even though he’s ostensibly the government baddie. His speech to Redford at the end is a fair defense of the dirty tricks spy trade:
As Director Sydney Pollack noted about Robertson’s character, “I’m much more interested in the CIA guys who are trying to help us and do something [widely considered] immoral than I am about guys who are just immoral because they want to sell dope and make money. That’s boring to me. It’s much more complicated to say, here’s a bunch of guys whose job it is to protect us and they’re saying there’s no way we’re going to sell the fact that the Middle East [states] control the oil and if we don’t get control of the oil and they [seize its production], we’re going to end up with what we have now.” Now, juxtapose Pollack’s view of Robertson with Oliver Stone’s Wall Street creation, Gordon Gecko, who at the height of his megalomania, answers a question as to why he wants to wreck a company with, “Because it’s WRECKABLE!” and you’ll understand why that film travels so poorly.
Pollack also makes great use of grimy 70s New York City – the World Trade Center figures very prominently in the film. More Pollack: “I was looking for the logic of where the [Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)] might be [located]. I didn’t want to have a building that said CIA on it because I didn’t think that would exist. I figured they would want some kind of anonymity and that the best kind of anonymity are these two massive buildings with thousands of offices and you wouldn’t know who’s where.”