Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) is a CIA researcher, who reads books to help the CIA computers find patterns and codes in a small building disguised as a literature centre in New York. One day, while he’s out to lunch, all of his colleagues are killed by hitmen. Turner – codename Condor – is understandably freaked out by this, and tries to get his handlers to bring him in from the cold. When that first contact goes wrong, Turner goes to ground, kidnapping Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) to stay in her apartment. From there, Turner slowly begins to pick at threads of the conspiracy against him, working his way up the chain to discover why someone wants him dead.
Condor has a superb premise, this cannot be doubted, but its execution seems a little unusual today. The pacing is a little jumpy, but not so much that it’s off-putting. There’s also a rather large amount of exposition at the end, having been more or less completely starved of the why throughout. Perhaps it’s simply that as a modern audience, we’ve seen this story so many times before that we’re less interested in the what and more in the why.
Redford is great as Turner, and amply pulls of both his bookish and more worldly sides. Turner has never been trained as an operative, but has picked up lots of tips and tricks in the books that he has read; and Redford does a great job portraying a man out of his depth, using everything he knows just to try and stay afloat. The more memorable performance comes from Max von Sydow as Joubert, the cold, calculating hitman sent to kill Condor. Joubert is the consummate professional, who comes to respect Turner for his ability to continue to evade him. It seems like the performance that launched a thousand imitations. Sydney Pollack’s direction is noticeable throughout, and the film is littered with nice touches and smooth camera work.
What’s important to remember about Condor is that it came just shortly after the Watergate scandal, when the American public’s cynicism of its government was only in its infancy. As such, stories like Condor were relatively new and groundbreaking. Now, the cynicism and paranoia that the film goes to such effort to capture seem almost naïve in their simplicity. Several characters in the film pine for a simpler time, when good and evil seemed more well defined, more black and white. If only they knew. The standout speech of the film comes from Turner’s contact in the CIA, Higgins (Cliff Robertson), and it’s almost uncannily prophetic of the attitude of intelligence agencies today.
Condor is an engaging watch, and one that demands some thought afterwards. It certainly improves with reflection, and it’s a recommended watch. B+.