In 2005 Sydney Pollack (one of Hollywood’s most famous directors) found himself competing against himself, in terms of two movies which he had brought to the big screen–2005’s “The Interpreter” (starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn) and 1975’s Three Days of the Condor (starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway). Comparisons between the two were inevitable, since Pollack had directed both and they are classified in the same genre–thrillers.
While The Interpreter made history of a sort, by being the first movie to obtain permission to film on site at the United Nations, that may be the only reason why it’ll be remembered in years to come. Pollack, in a number of interviews given while promoting the movie, provided behind the scenes details about how he managed to obtain permission to film on the U.N.’s actual premises.
While initial communications between him and the UN’s bureaucratic official channels had proved fruitless, he managed (thanks to a mutual friend) to present the matter directly to UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, himself. When Pollack reassured Annan about the site not being defamed or denigrated in the movie, Annan gave his consent for the film crew to work there.
In contrast to The Interpreter, Three Days of the Condor (with its CIA-oriented setting) still remains popular and receives high praise, even though it hit the big screen thirty years before The Interpreter. Not only is its action fast-paced, it’s enhanced by the obvious on-screen chemistry which exists between Dunaway and Redford. Their characters are particularly well-drawn and the two actors have them interacting with each other in memorable fashion.
The most basic reason accounting for the very probable difference in the ultimate fate of the films is the difference in the quality of the story each tells. While Condor’s storyline is concise, engaging and suspenseful (focusing attention on an issue of major concern during the 1970’s, the oil crisis), the storyline in “The Interpreter” is too wide-ranging, complicated and (surprisingly) predictable (even though it’s dealing with an issue of major concern at the beginning of the 21st century, genocide in Africa).
Most movies based on novels fail to tell a story as convincingly as their original source material. Not so in the case of Condor. Based on James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor, the movie Three Days of the Condor brings the immediacy and inventiveness of the novel’s action to the big screen flawlessly. What’s more, it updates the essential storyline to correspond with real word developments in the 1970s.
Not many current directors in Hollywood enjoy the status of having had as lengthy a career as Pollack has had, with the number of box office successes he’s managed to pull off. Given his professional collaboration with Redford over the years, it’ll be interesting to see if they work together again.