The protagonist, history student Thomas Levy, is fascinated by his studies, loves jogging in the morning and misses his older brother, who lives far away and in a completely different world… He has no idea yet what he will become embroiled in. Will he be able to withstand the battle with the dangerous Nazi outlaw chasing him?
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Having spectacularly closed the door in the sixties with Midnight Cowboy, British director John Schlesinger was given carte blanche by American producers, but he only took advantage of it in part. Feeling more confident in the field of English drama exposing human relationships, he continued in the dream factory five years later, debunking the myth of Hollywood’s greatness with The Day of the Locust. The thriller elements used in the story gave him a new idea: to move away from drama, stepping fully into the territory of crime films. To give the idea a fruition, Schlesinger enlisted certified intellectual Dustin Hoffman and famed countryman Laurence Olivier. The move proved more than winning. The confrontation between the antagonists went far beyond the screen. The film became a rivalry between the two areas of the game, the two schools of acting. And it is not even that Hoffman and Olivier belonged to different generations, different continents and different nationalities. Working on the role, the image has become an obsession for Dustin, who uses a system of Stanislavsky. Shakespeare’s adaptor Olivier, who used the acting technique of the classical English school, reacted with malice to this method of getting used to the role, throwing inadvertently: “But do not play better? One way or another – the result of the competition was a fine example of the embodiment of the death duel of two charismatic personalities on the screen.
Starting off with a mosaic of various episodes, the film resembles an adaptation of Arthur Haley’s novels: several unconnected characters in different parts of the globe perform certain actions that eventually pull all the threads together and lead to the protagonist, the history student Thomas Levy, played by Hoffman. It would seem difficult to build a narrative line out of these tattered shreds. But the director changes his mind quite quickly, forcing the plot flywheel to gain more momentum. We don’t even understand what the filmmakers are offering – a paranoid spy thriller or a story about some mysterious jewels’ theft – the spectator freezes in suspense: the first fifteen minutes are full of events, giving away several bodies killed by very sophisticated methods. And the setting is either the core of New York City – Manhattan, or the Paris Grand Opera, or the frightening thickets of the rainforests of Uruguay. The danger is near, it comes on the heels of the characters, but the puppeteer, pulling the strings of criminal puppets, is not yet visible to the eyes. Evil comes from the darkness. A stranger’s hand, throwing a deadly noose around his neck, a sharp knife blade cutting the victim’s throat, a crowbar breaking down doors. For greater effect, a low, “bottom-up” point of view is used here with a still camera.
The action moves in an instant: here is JFK airport, and here we see the easily recognizable outlines of the Arc de Triomphe, then back to New York – Central Park, joggers, the water surface of the lake. A little longer and we see the narrow streets of Paris again through the window of a cab pulled out of an underground tunnel. The director is very clear about the timing of the events, framing the characters with rich backgrounds. Green demonstrations in Paris, a Jewish holiday in a New York City neighborhood. Going outside, the camera is not “parked” in a miserable square or at a table in a cafe. It’s on the move all the time. The car race is like a piece from “The French Connection,” a jog in the park behind the backs of runners splashing wide jumps of mud left by the rain. We catch glimpses of the African enclave sitting on the pavement, selling ritual masks. The camera clings to details: the mountains of garbage bags in the Parisian streets that have angered air purity fighters, the mysterious gentleman with a baby carriage carrying a doll instead of a child. A film with a forty-year run in terms of action, of course, pales in comparison to today’s “bourniana,” but its plot is not obsolete in view of the peculiarity of its theme – the exposure of a secret organization of Nazi criminals. Despite the fact that the statute of limitations on World War II atrocities increases every year, the relevance of the theme is as fresh as ever. Laurence Olivier just plays one of the former Nazis – the infernal sadistic doctor Christian Zell, who has a real prototype – Josef Mengele, the brutal murderer of thousands of Jews who operated in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Perfectionist Hoffman again, as in “Straw Dogs” is presented as a nerdy, incompetent, who will soon have to pass the test of strength. This time, his character is not deprived of complexes: a mysterious past, flashes interrupting the narrative, left a mark on the psyche of Thomas Levy. Ever since his father’s misfortune, the trajectory of Thomas’s fate has been strictly subordinated to one idea: to “whitewash” the good name of his parent. His father, whose loss was very hard for the boy, was replaced by his older brother – Henry “Doc”, a successful businessman, who at the same time has weighty skeletons in his closet. He is just the one who will become the culprit of the problems that have fallen on the younger Levi’s head. Schlesinger does not let you get bored: a minimum of dialogue, maximum anxiety and tension. Disturbing chords issuing from the piano keys like drops of water falling from a faucet that is not properly closed, maddening methodical ticking of an alarm clock of planted explosives, the buzzing of a drilling drill causing a feeling of nausea, the sound of unhurried lonely steps in a dark alley – the director skillfully uses sound effects, adding them to the visuals. In films of this kind, at least one harsh scene always sticks in the memory, becoming a sample of the creator’s creative handwriting. Here there are many more, but undoubtedly the calling card of the film is the scene, which is repeatedly quoted in the films of the following years. For example, Richard Donner’s “Conspiracy Theory” contains a direct reference to the torture Zell inflicts on Thomas Levy. And if David Fincher lost the desire to swim in the ocean after watching ‘Jaws’, the dentist’s office will almost certainly evoke an association with the sadistic doctor realistically portrayed by the English maestro.
After all, the genre of the film is a thriller. Therefore, one should not expect here a documentary chronicling the atrocities of the Nazis during World War II, as in the textbook Schindler’s List. Schlesinger does not focus the viewer’s attention on historical allusions. His weapon is suspense: slow, indomitable, methodical and merciless.
Codec: HEVC / H.265 (82.4 Mb/s)
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
English: Dolby Digital 5.1
English, English SDH.