3 Days of the Condor : a review

14 Mar

The wet streets, the smoke emanating from a corner of the frame in a desolate night, the breath vapour, the cigarette(s) (though the number is quite few) is all there, but if you expect a run-of-the-mill noir from Sydney Pollack’s 3 Days of the Condor, you are about to smash against the windshield.

There are too many small, quaint, and big and bold statements in the movie, it subverts many of the stylistic expectations of the noir, and yet is very much part of that stylistic family.  Consider these following facts: our protagonist here is not a Private detective, not attached to the environs of the street, not a lonesome figure out to rub against the world and doesn’t care about its hard edges – no, he is that sample of the romanticized exquisite good life – a reader of fiction.  And not just that, he works amidst books, and he reads detective stories (ok, so not quite the high taste) from around the world.  If film noir is studied as a stylistic quality which fascinates us with the fascination of watching (Oliver Harris’s [see Citations] example is Robert Siodmak’s 1946 movie The Killers, one can also think of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, or Psycho), the fascination of 3 Days of the Condor, and this is the second definitive distinction, is with reading itself – reading fiction, reading photographs, reading the weather… It was the French New Wave which fed on American noir and spoke of camera stylo.  In 3 Days of the Condor we have a homecoming of a profoundly influential style.  Thirdly, the central question of the movie (and I avoid spoilers) is about the unseen politics of publication itself – the protagonist notices that a very ordinary detective fiction in Spanish published from Venezuela is getting translated to languages which cannot boast of prolific translations – like Arabic and Dutch.  He smells something odd, and soon the cleaners come calling.

The feel of the movie – its slow paced melancholy with occasional bursts of action is still resonant and one cannot help but be reminded of such contemporary (and decent) cold war thrillers like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, dir. Tomas Alfredson) Syd Field [see Citations] mentions 3 Days of the Condor as “one of the unheralded great movies of the 70s”(p.116), and this is what led me to watch it.  In many ways the movie is a complementary of the other 1975 great: Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon – this is where the personal intersects with the political, and a political order almost receding to the past, while in 3 Days of the Condor we have the world politics barging into the unsuspecting personal life of the protagonist.  And I cannot immediately think of a more prescient movie when it comes to world geo-politics.

Citations:

Field, Syd. 2005. Screenwriting: Foundations of Screenplay. New York, Delta.

Harris, Oliver. 2003. “Film Noir Fascination: Outside History, but Historically so”, Cinema Journal, 43:1, pp.3-24

 

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