I’ve written about a few post-Watergate thrillers recently (Klute, All the President’s Men) that have notable themes of conspiracy and paranoia throughout, and it’s hard not to make a connection between the Watergate scandal and this shift in the popular culture. Americans were really woken up to the realization that the government, and big institutions with a lot of influence and power, can be corrupt and insidious, can threaten traditional American values and beliefs.
Three Days of the Condor, directed by Sydney Pollack, is another such film in this vein, one in which a mild-mannered CIA analyst, Joe, AKA Condor, (Robert Redford) uncovers a conspiracy that causes his entire office to be slaughtered by assassins. Realizing he can’t trust anyone he knows, Joe goes on the run, forcing Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) to hide him in her apartment.
Joe is, in some ways, an unlikely film for a hero about espionage and subterfuge, particularly in comparison to the modern era of Jason Bourne and his ilk of cinematic spies. Instead, he’s more of an ordinary guy, an analyst, who survives thanks to his wits.
Another key performance that really makes this film tick is Max von Sydow as the cold emotionless European assassin, Joubert. It’s the type of performance that is so memorable that, if this film didn’t originate that archetype, it certainly played a role in its development. As we follow Joe, and watch him attempt to outmaneuver Joubert, we see the two of them gain a sense of mutual respect
Three Days of the Condor presents a model for these kinds of conspiracy thriller films that would become the model for so many later films, and even as recently as for Captain America: Civil War (which also featured Robert Redford), Three Days of the Condor was cited as a major influence. Unlike most Hollywood films, however, Three Days of the Condor ends on a more nebulous, darker note than we’re used to. Three Days of the Condor is a film of shades of grey, not black and white, and it respects its universe as such – people don’t just get to walk away from their actions without consequence.
Overall, I found Three Days of the Condor to be on the dry side (desensitized as I am to modern action movies, of course), but still an enjoyable watch.