Blu-ray Review: Klute | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Studio: The Criterion Collection

Sep 11, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Jane Fonda was sure she couldn’t do it. She was Barbarella, for Christ’s sake, and part of a powerful Hollywood dynasty at that. Yes, she was a budding activist and had had her own trevails, but where would she ever find the pathos to play an emotionally damaged, nihilistic callgirl? Trying to back out, Fonda even told director Alan J. Pakula — in an epic backhanded compliment — that he should get Faye Dunaway instead. Surely, she’d be messed up enough to pull it off.

Pakula stuck to his guns, though, and the proof of his good instincts is in the proverbial pudding. Klute is a masterful crime drama which stands the test of time, stylish and substantial on almost all counts, but Fonda’s performance as Bree Daniels consistently walks away with the show stuffed in a smart handbag.

Titular guy John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a small town detective whose best friend goes missing. The only lead Klute has to go on are some letters in his friend’s name addressed to Daniels, a New York callgirl whom he’d apparently been obsessing over before disappearing. There’s substantial intrigue in the first half of the film as Klute gets to the bottom of the case, but that intrigue is always secondary (and in fact, the mystery is solved willfully, subversively early). Klute is a character study — two character studies, really — and the nuances of Klute and Daniels’ complex relationship are the true meat of the film.

At first, Fonda’s Daniels character might seem a bit studied, her speech patterns belabored. It becomes clear soon enough, though, that this is a case of an excellent actress playing a lesser one. With Daniels, Fonda created a strong, but still flawed, character going to great lengths to maintain her dignity in trying and scary times. She wants out of the callgirl life, but since she’s good at it and not morally opposed to it, she keeps stumbling back in when her chips are down. Fonda was not wrong to feel challenged by such a layered character, but she rises to the occasion. It’s not for nothing that she go both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this one.

Much more can be said about Fonda’s performance, but it’s also worth acknowledging that Sutherland turns in one of the most restrained performances of his career here. On the surface, Klute is a “woman in trouble” story, and Sutherland’s rural detective is the white knight; surely, this seems to be what Klute believes as he becomes more personally invested in helping Daniels. It would have been easy to play this all for melodramatic effect, but the drama is largely implied by small motions and pregnant silences. In Sutherland’s hands, John Klute is almost a parody of the strong, silent detective; he thinks you can’t tell what he’s feeling (though the aftermath of one intimate scene shows that Daniels, for her part, can read Klute like a book).

Given that this is the Criterion Collection we’re dealing with, I trust I needn’t spend much time talking about the exquisite transfer and packaging on this edition. Still, it’s worth a nod to those responsible for the transfer, given that Gordon Willis, a cinematographer often referred to in industry circles as “The Prince of Darkness”, had slathered the film in shadows and rich, dark hues which, while very effective, can be a challenge during the restoration process.

Klute was a successful and acclaimed film in its day, but it has fallen into relative obscurity in the ensuing decades. A shame, that, but not a unique one for a film that doesn’t feel the need to telegraph constantly that it’s “important”. That it’s available again, in such a careful and loving package, is a real gift.


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