Klute ★★★★★

On the surface Klute seems like a fairly straight-forward, almost generic crime thriller. It has a lot in common with the Italian giallos of the period, and has a some clear references back to the film noir of the 1940s; however beneath the surface, where the paranoia lurks, Klute is altogether something more sinister, darkly romantic and doom-laden.

Jane Fonda gives one of the great performances of American cinema in Klute. She is complex and brittle. Fonda is restrained and almost vacant. It is almost a non-performance, but each rewatch allows you to uncover more layers of what may, or may not, be there. She is opaque, but brilliant. Sexy, vulnerable, disturbed, disturbing - all with no emotion, little gestures and no drama. It may be all in the camera, or it may be all in her eyes; I still cannot decide. Contrasted with Donald Sutherland, who gives the most restrained performance of his career, she shines all the brighter. Sutherland allows her to find the centre of every scene and barely intrudes on the film; his Klute is as complex as the film.

Klute is a film of ringing telephones, shadowy apartments and hotels rooms (shot by the prince of darkness himself Gordon Willis, one of his most astonishing looking films) and a soft, melancholic jazz score from Michael Small. It was helmed with great skill by Alan J Pakula, making this the first in the paranoia trilogy that made his name and keeps him relevant. The film may not have the wide-reaching impact of All the President's Men, its slow-burn plot is actually pretty straight-forward, but the way Klute rearranges itself from thriller to dark romance, without a shift in tone, makes it one of the best films from the 1970s.

It is a grim mystery, without thrills, but with a real heart of darkness. Klute is a film that lives in the shadows, with the great actor Roy Scheider doing little in support, but meaning everything; it never fully comes out of the darkness, out of the gloom, you may get a resolution to the story, but not to the emotion that the film evokes. It is a destroyer of moods, it is a masterpiece.

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