Joseph Turner code name Condor works at the American Literary Historical Society in New York City. The organization is actually a branch office of the CIA. He and his youthful coworkers read, analyze, and computerize various spy stories, mysteries, and periodicals for the CIA's mammoth intelligence gathering operations.
One rainy day while Turner is out to lunch, the rest of the staff is brutally murdered. Scared out of his wits, he contacts the CIA and is told to go into hiding. When he does arrange a meeting with the CIA, he is fired upon and his best friend, along to help identify the contact, is shot by another agent. Terror grips Turner. He abducts Kathy Hale, a photographer, and in her apartment in Brooklyn tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding the executions.
Three Days at the Condor works on two levels: as an examination of the covert activities within the CIA and as a somewhat curious look at the development of a relationship through shared stress. Robert Redford is just right as the paranoid Turner, a bright young man unexplainably put in a harrowing situation. Did the slaughter of the American Literary Historical Society staff stem from his inquiry to CIA headquarters about a mystery novel only translated into Dutch and Arabic? Perhaps someone in higher places was doing unauthorized intelligence work and Turner stumbled onto his scheme. Can Turner now determine who's out to silence him? Director Sydney Pollack, (The Way We Were, Yakuza) orchestrates the zigzag storyline into a labyrinth of effective scenes, revealing Turner's fright and his own special brand of grace under pressure.
Faye Dunaway gives a well modulated performance as the woman who is kidnapped by Turner at gunpoint and forced to serve as his host. Her initial fright turns to anger as he brutalizes her. But then, through the bizarre intermix of their wants and needs, the two develop an uneasy relationship. Sex is one part of the bond drawing them together; intelligence the other. She helps him solve the mystery and come to terms with his conscience. He helps her to a new understanding of her loneliness. Faye Dunaway, moving from her standout role in Chinatown to this notable performance, proves that she is one of our better actresses.
Also featured in this gripping suspense story are Cliff Robertson and John Houseman as two Central Intelligence Agency officials and Max Von Sydow as a hit man used by the CIA on various contacts. In the wake of Watergate and the recent probes on the CIA, Three Days of the Condor has a resonance with the general mood of public uneasiness about secrecy in high places. We can empathize with these characters and their paranoia. Although it doesn't really make any sophisticated political commentary on the activities of the CIA, this movie does work as a thriller for thinkers.