Seen by Martin before? Yes
What did I expect? A sinewy, bracingly intelligent thriller.
What did I get? A masterpiece. It’s difficult to think of a Hollywood product as pervasively acute and well executed as Klute. By sheer alchemy it manages to be a thoroughly mesmerizing document of its time (without ever feeling limited by it) as well as a compelling study on the nature of intimacy, the movie’s real subject. It’s “just” a thriller, but Klute gives genre movies a good name.
A key to Klute‘s miraculous effectiveness is grasping the preposterousness of its central premise — that John Klute and Bree Daniel can fall in love. If the hooker with a heart of gold — Bree is not that, exactly — is the hoariest of movie cliches, then the detective who falls in love with one ain’t far behind. Bree is a “high-class prostitute” who has undergone a decline in her status due to an arrest the previous year — one of the points the movie lands is how normal and middle-class her existence is. She’s also an aspiring actress; in her therapy sessions she expounds on the performative aspects of her job. She’s a possible link to the disappearance of a john, a solid family man, and soon it becomes apparent that a murderer is at large.
It’s no coincidence that Bree’s an actress. Unlike Klute, her thing is facades. Right away we see her acting with a john, later on we see her acting in an audition. One night she goes to Klute’s spartan quarters, saying that she is frightened and doesn’t want to be alone — soon enough, they sleep together. Bree’s attitude afterward is meant to show the temperamentally sincere Klute in no uncertain terms that she was acting all along, even with him, and that she’s now one up on him. But of course Bree’s not as in control of things as she would like; the true referent for Bree’s performance — her fear, which is justified — causes her to be more under Klute’s control than she has any idea is happening. Klute’s utter equanimity and calm in the face of her manipulative behavior is revealing as well.
One of the guiding principles of the movie is “small town vs. big city” — Bree jests about this at one point, but is coldly rebuffed by Klute, who’s invariably described as a “small-town detective,” both within the movie and in descriptions of it. The lack of specificity about Klute’s roots forces the viewer to assume a lingering void in him, some dysfunction that accounts for his single status (small towns are where married people live, right?), his impassive reliability, and his inchoate eagerness for a bond with Bree.
Also, this is a courtship of sorts…. Klute is honorable, but his gesture of letting her have the tapes of her phone conversations he has surreptitiously recorded serves to show her that he’s honorable. The courtship is both a professional and a personal one. Sutherland is excellent in the movie, but Fonda is truly extraordinary — ever-alert, canny, chameleonic, thoughtful, fleetingly sarcastic, always specific and precise in the most minute way. She’s simply a marvelous instrument here.
It’s amazing how much this movie may have set the template for serial killer thrillers in the years to come. Perhaps the movie’s only negative legacy is the use of “angelic” children’s choral voices when we’re with the killer’s perspective, I’ve seen that used often enough to last me a lifetime.
What here smacks of 1971? The scene in which typewriter outputs are compared to established a point of evidence. Very little about this movie has dated.
IMDB score: 7.2
My score: 10
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Writers: Andy Lewis and Dave Lewis
Starring: Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider, Dorothy Tristan, Rita Gam, Nathan George, Vivian Nathan
IMDB synopsis: John Klute’s friend has totally disappeared. The only clue a connection with a call girl, Bree Daniels. Klute taps her phone in order to gain evidence against her to blackmail her into helping him find his friend. While Klute searches, someone is stalking Bree.