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Klute (Alan J. Pakula) 1971


    A police procedural on the outside, Alan Pakula’s Klute works most effectively as an exploration of the whore as the consummate actress. In this character study, Jane Fonda plays Bree, a prostitute who’s an aspiring actress by day: she’s a call girl who desperately needs a callback. Fonda’s performance is layered enough that this almost becomes a meta-movie (all the more impressive considering its generic roots). She’s Jane Fonda, playing a whore who plays at being an actress (or is that the other way around?), who plays into the fantasies of her clients. It’s almost impossible to watch without considering the function of the Hollywood star system, which treats the masses like a john. We pay our money, get two hours of an exciting fantasy that seems tailor made for us, and then, after the movie’s climax, are made to revert to reality, until the next time. When Bree talks midway through the film about a desire to be “faceless and bodyless,” she might be revealing more about her desire to please others than at any other time in the film. The actress, it seems is a surrogate for our fantasies, because she doesn’t feel comfortable in expressing her own. “The only responsibility you have to me is to enjoy yourself,” she says, hoping we’ll buy into the illusion that she’s without any needs, but her messy apartment suggests the pretense of control is a tenuous for her as it is for us. While Bree’s eventual relationship with police detective Klute (Donald Sutherland) might bring these issues too close to the surface to their own good, for a while the movie seems revelatory in its willingness to call us on our relationship with the facade of the movies.


    It’s not really of a stinker as a cop movie, however, so the film doesn’t exactly fizzle when it relies more heavily on its plot. Klute is a small town cop from rural Pennsylvania who’s on the trail of a missing family man that apparently wrote sexually explicit letters to Bree. Upon arriving in New York City, he finds a seemingly infinite well of depravity. Strung out junkies, orgiastic discos, innumerable call girls, and a generally gritty look dominate the city’s vice-filled landscape. The movie wants us to believe its weak minded thesis, which says the city is corrupt, and the country is somehow pure, but it doesn’t really seem to recognize the willing corruptibility of the title character or that the stalker they’re tracking came from the boondocks. Still, the police procedural works in this backdrop, since as Klute is trying to figure out what drives Bree’s stalker, we see Bree trying to figure out how her clients get their rocks off. The environment becomes hostile toward Bree in nearly every shot, and we aren’t sure that the dark corners in the edges of the frame are empty of watchful eyes. Even the most basic dialogue scenes are framed, so that the person listening to Bree becomes a dark, unknown figure. This city is a world dominated by shadows and silhouettes.


    Pakula’s direction isn’t fussy, but it creates an effective, suffocating slow burn nonetheless. The tension levels are high enough throughout that we’re never bored, even when we’re sure we know how the action will play out. The minimalist score heightens the suspense considerably, and even the most mundane scenes seem charged with energy because of the visual scheme of the movie, which lends an uncertainty to the movie that makes us think that every scene could potentially turn into a scary one. Fonda’s performance is solid, but that’s partially because the script gives her several long scenes that are near-monologues. In any case, she creates in Bree one of the most memorable prostitutes to hit the big screen, alongside Leaving Las Vegas’s Elisabeth Shue, Belle De Jour’s Catherine Deneuve, and Pixote’s Marilia Pera. It’s a role that enriches the possibilities of the drama around it. Thanks to its complexities of character and morality, Klute creates a proposition for the audience in which there’s no such thing as simple pleasure, even if we’re paying.


* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman