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Movie Details

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Directed By
Alan J. Pakula

Written By:
Dave Lewis, Andy Lewis

Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider, Rita Gam, Jean Stapleton, Nathan George, Vivian Nathan, Shirley Stoler, Anthony Holland, Richard B. Shull, Joe Silver, Sylvester Stallone, Jane White, Fred Burrell, Lee Wallace, Morris Strassberg, Barry Snider, Betty Murray, Robert Milli, Lee Wallace

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Klute (1971)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
July 6th, 2010

'Klute' was probably as erotic as a movie could get in 1971 without being slapped with the dreaded X rating; times were simpler then, I guess, and now, the film, under the modern guidelines of the MPAA, could get by with PG-13. The title is a bit misleading, because the main character is undeniably Bree, played by Jane Fonda, in a mesmerizing, brilliantly nuanced performance, for which she deservedly won her first Oscar. Fonda is such a fascinating actress to watch, for the intelligence and intensity she consistently delivers in every scene of this superior thriller from Alan J Pakula.

Her Bree is a smart, cynical, and ambitious New York call girl, who also happens to be an aspiring model, and seems to desire an alternative career, one more reputable, or perhaps safer, as she constantly feels like she is being watched, and has received threatening letters and phone calls, and was once even severely beaten by one of her clients. Bree offers us a glimpse of the sordid, dangerous, and very unglamorous world of prostitution, and also tries to explain its hold on her, and why she seems incapable, or even unwilling, to escape it. She is visited one day by a square suburban detective, John Klute (Donald Sutherland), who is investigating the disappearance of his friend, Tom Gruneman.

Klute believes that Gruneman may still be alive, and may, in fact, be responsible for those calls and letters Bree has been getting. She initially refuses to answer his questions, but eventually comes to confide in him, turning to him for companionship, and protection, as her paranoia deepens, and there does seem to be someone after her, an unknown stalker, who carefully watches her movements, and even obsessively listens to her recorded conversations.

It is obvious early on who this guy is, his identity is therefore known to the audience, but not to Klute, who relies on his sleuthing skills to connect the dots, and follow a trail of elusive clues. The underlying mystery is not terribly exciting, is awkwardly paced and written, but Pakula does generate a considerable amount of suspense, while wisely fleshing out the strange but compelling relationship between Klute and Bree.

Klute at first has no apparent sexual interest in Bree, and rejects her advances, and then succumbs to them. Bree is used to dealing with men who want her to embody a personal fantasy, but Klute likes her for who she really is, and this puzzles her. It is a solid police procedural, and Klute's investigation only becomes more complicated as two of Bree's fellow hookers are murdered, and she is clearly the next target. So there is a sense of urgency throughout the picture. Donald Sutherland is appropriately understated and highly effective as the determined Klute, whose professionalism and neutrality are compromised by his feelings for Bree.

Also worth mentioning is Roy Scheider, as Bree's sleazy former pimp Frank Ligourin. Frank is an exploiter, and a manipulator, but he is the only person Bree has to turn to, and the only person who seems to care about her, at least until she meets Klute. The flick's greatest asset, however, may be its honesty and realism, how it grimly conceptualizes the life of a hooker, like Arlyn Page (Dorothy Tristan), who has become a hopeless drug addict. Bree lives comfortably in a small, cozy apartment, and knows her limitations, but this is atypical.

The ending feels abrupt, and hastily slapped together, and holds no surprises for anyone. Cinematographer Gordon Willis portrays New York as a shadowy, vice-filled landscape. He strips down the city to its barest, grimiest components, and exposes its darker side. Watching Fonda, I was reminded of Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas, the easiest comparison to make, but I also saw elements of Catherine Deneuve from Belle du Jour, and Marilia Pera from Pixote.

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