Klute (1971) (R)

"Klute" turned Jane Fonda into the fashion statement/rights activist/controversial figure that we can recognize her as today. Though her view points may seem a bit jaded in today's world, the Vietnam War having come and gone, her presence itself is still enough to send some people off the deep end—as exemplified in "Lee Daniels' The Butler"—which proves her star power. But more than just a turning point in the career of an actress (Fonda would win an Oscar for her role in "Klute"), this movie is a prime example of a suspense thriller.
"Klute" has the look of "All the President's Men" (this would make sense because Alan J. Pakula directed both the pictures) and the feel of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation". It is about paranoia, abuse, misconceptions, secrets, and how far you would go to maintain your integrity. With this movie, "Klute" establishes some of the tropes of the thriller, though I doubt you will see them done any better than here.
A man named Tom Gruneman has gone missing. After a brief introduction to him and his family/friends, we see a policeman interviewing his wife. Tom's disappearance is remarkably uncharacteristic of him, though as the police get further into the investigation, they learn that Tom may not be so well adjusted as everyone assumes.
They find multiple, sexually explicit letters written to a woman in New York City, presumably, someone that he had met before. After meeting with the woman to whom the letters are written, the police find out that she is a call girl and has no real recollection of Tom at all.
Assuming that Tom has run away from home to stalk the girl of his sexual fantasies, Tom's wife is left bewildered and searching for answers. Not completely convinced that Tom would do such a dastardly thing, John Klute (Donald Sutherland) a family friend, is hired as a private investigator to track down Tom and uncover the truth. He is hired by Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi) one of Tom's business partners who helps John make the connections he needs to track down Tom.
Once in New York, we run into Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda), the girl who the letters were written to. She has been in and out of prison and questioned by the police about Tom Gruneman numerous times. She's not looking to divulge any more information. While trying to make it as an actress and a model, Bree still gets set up with men from time to time. Hey, a girl's gotta eat.
Bree sees a psychiatrist regularly and her talks on the couch give us insight into her complex life. She likes being a call girl because she likes having the power in a situation. She likes the fact that some of her "Johns" (irony is heavy here) need her and seek her out regularly; but mostly she just likes the brief connection she feels with her men. They see her and she sees them and for a brief moment, there is truth there.
Still claiming ignorance on the knowledge of Tom Gruneman and suffering from growing paranoia that she is being followed, Bree's life is changed when Klute walks in. The first time they talk, Klute notices a man spying on them through the roof window and a chase scene ensues. Bree's life becomes threatened when the man keeps coming back and doing more and more daring acts. Soon, it's just a matter of time before Tom's disappearance and deaths that have been lining up meet in the middle to give us an answer.
Without giving too much away, "Klute" never operates as a whodunnit, because the answer becomes obvious to the audience half way through the movie. We know and the characters don't and that's what gives the movie its suspense.
As the title character, Donald Sutherland is silent and meditative. He always gives wonderful performances. But Fonda really blows everyone else away with her turn as Bree Daniel. It was a well-deserved Oscar win and a performance that has landed her a place in film lore. She's sassy, emotional, wounded, strong, and tenacious.
"Klute" has a magnificent score, a wonderful neo-noir look, and perhaps the most enjoyable thriller sequences that I've ever seen. It's simply a great movie.

Score: ★★★★

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