Sidney Pollack recently died, and I dredged this up to watch. It is a strange relic of a time when we really liked these spy stories — and the stories were allowed to be simple. The characters had no life outside the confined story.
The story dynamics are simple, the migration of the noir plot to the spy world: average guy has the world unexpectedly conspire against him, and he deals with it cleverly. The novelty here isn’t the spy-ness; the CIA would later be exchangeable for any secret conspirator who has god-like powers.
The novelty — at least in the book — is that the character played by Redford was a professional reader of books. Its what he did as an obsession and what he was employed to do for the Agency. He looks for sense, hidden clues to a larger sense in the world. While the reader of the spy book is reading, trying to explain the incomprehensible forces, trying to chart cause, the character in the book is doing the same thing. Its what I call narrative folding.
Naturally, his wide reading gives him esoteric knowledge about things and techniques which he employs, supplementing his own solitary resourcefulness. There is a love story of sorts. His real girlfriend has been killed and he randomly picks a woman to hide with. This is Faye Dunaway whose makeup, acting skills and lines are sadly inadequate.
So, its an interesting construction. By today’s standards it is slow, offensively simplistic and overall poorly made. But I think even in its day, it lacked the sort of polish and effectiveness that would elude Pollack his entire career. The one thing he could do — it seems — was sometimes help an actor find a place in a story. He would do that at least twice that I know, perhaps more. But as a long form filmmaker, he dies without achievement.
There is invading the middle east on bogus CIA intelligence for the purposes of oil, purportedly for the well-being of US citizens. There’s a pang there, as well as seeing the New York office of the CIA in the World Trade Center (which was true at the time).
Posted in 2009
Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.