Staring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow. Directed by Sydney Pollack. 1975, 120 mins., Color. Rated R.
By the 1970s, in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, the ‘60s concern about power and how it could be abused in the name of defending against a foreign enemy had become absolute paranoia, and one of the decade’s best paranoid political thrillers was Sydney Pollack’s “Three Days of the Condor”. The plot is still set in motion by the inexorable Cold War logic that the government must use its power to fight the enemy, but here that open-ended justification has morphed into the premise that everyone with power is corrupt. In earlier political thrillers there was usually a conflict within government between those who were principled and those who were not, but in “Three Days of the Condor” there is no fight because there are no principles left — government itself has become the most dangerous enemy. Robert Redford plays a low-level CIA researcher who inadvertently becomes enmeshed in one of his agency’s darkest secrets. For reasons he can’t understand, he finds he’s a marked man who cannot trust anyone he knows.
Sydney Pollack directed with a distinctly gloomy yet still lively style, and together with screenwriters Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and David Rayfiel made sure that the story did not lose its focus as a tense, compelling exercise in suspense. For these reasons, “Three Days of the Condor” never devolves into the preposterous or unconvincing, as did some of the other political paranoia films of the era. What makes the film so riveting is that you believe its story is all too possible.