A careful work of adjustment and prophecy: The Hitchcock couple (The 39 Steps, Saboteur, North by Northwest) is transposed to the year after Watergate, the Middle East debacle and its media representation are frankly projected ("Oil. That's it, isn't it?"). The gentle joke is that the secret agent (Robert Redford) is a bookworm at the American Literary Historical Society, whose crew is slaughtered while he's getting lunch. Unfinished things do not sit well in the corridors of power -- the fugitive takes to dodging bullets and wrestling hit men, Faye Dunaway is the chilly gal in the proverbial handcuffs. Crosscutting during their lovemaking extracts a romantic frisson from the heroine's "lonely pictures" (desolate views of leafless trees and forlorn park benches), photographs that intrigue the sad-poet side of Redford ("I don't remember yesterday... Today, it rained"). Sydney Pollack's suggestive style boasts something of these snapshots, cool and composed and abstrusely vulnerable: If Pakula's The Parallax View is a Jasper Johns, here is the paranoid Seventies' George Bellows. The presiding image, out of The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse modulated through The Quiller Memorandum, is that of "another CIA inside the CIA," and it is simplicity itself despite accusations of cumbersome spy plotting. Max von Sydow, seen in trench coat, fedora, and specs reflected on Manhattan's rain-slicked streetcorners, is the character best adapted to the new times, a freelance killer with belief in no cause other than the job's aesthetics and with enough of his soul locked away to tend to his collection of figurines. When assassination becomes a business arrangement, it is evidently time to take stock of ourselves: "I miss that kind of clarity," government honcho John Houseman says of the Great War, supposedly a period when the bad guys could be easily recognized as outsiders. With Cliff Robertson, Addison Powell, Walter McGinn, and Tina Chen.
--- Fernando F. Croce