Alan J. Pakula
- Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels
- Donald Sutherland as John Klute
- Charles Cioffi as Peter Cable
- Roy Scheider as Frank
An atmospheric thriller built on prowling paranoia through the direction of Alan J. Pakula, Klute also succeeds at being an unconventional urban drama with two fascinating characters, embodied spectacularly by Donald Sutherland and an Oscar-winning Jane Fonda.
Tom Gruneman; a family man mysteriously goes missing for no apparent reason. After the police have searched and turned up nothing, friend and private eye John Klute steps in and takes the investigation. He is a small town detective with not much experience in big cities, but he still dutifully takes on this case. The only clue as to what might have happened to Gruneman comes courtesy of an obscene letter he sent to a New York call girl. The girl in question is Bree Daniels, who seems to be not bothered about her lifestyle, but inwardly wants to break out from being a hooker and become an actress. In the area she lives in though, this dream is pretty slim which accounts for why she would need to turn tricks. The dependable and committed Klute travels to New York to see what he can uncover with regards to his friend’s disappearance. For a while, he watches Bree before making his presence known and questioning her of what she may know. Naturally defensive, Bree still manages to tell him about a client a few years back who brutally beat her up, but she can’t remember his name. Add to this the fact that she’s been getting cold calls frequently and Klute suspicions are raised. As he investigates and attempts to decipher what may have happened to Gruneman, he starts developing feelings for Bree, who has trouble reciprocating because of how distrustful and complex she is. Yet when a nearby prostitute is murdered and Bree begins to feel isolated, it appears that the crazed psycho may well have her in his sights. Bree is forced to trust Klute, which is something usually out of her remit as the steadfast Klute closes in on the stalker.
Alan J Pakula’s probing direction is a perfect match for the unconventional film that while ostensibly a thriller, reveals a personal drama in a place of seeming hopelessness. He is most adept at constructing paranoia in the viewer, achieved by placing the camera behind an assortment of obscuring surfaces. Surveillance is almost ever-present in Klute; which brings out a voyeuristic deconstruction of a seedy underbelly that the characters here occupy. The way that the camera stalks and tails Bree is both compelling and alarming, as it places us in the position of the crazed former client stalking the slowly more desperate Bree. While the spine tingling thriller aspects are plentiful and impressively drawn, the real crux and unique point of Klute comes in the characters and the attention it makes for them. The exploration of John and Bree are impeccably rendered and allow them to be characters that fascinate as well as challenge us. This is mostly seen in Bree, who is the focal point and key to the story. What is most enthralling about Bree is that she isn’t really like either of type of prostitute that is often seen in film; neither the hooker with the heart of gold or an emotionless broad. Instead, she occupies the middle ground and that , coupled with her complex relationship with Klute, is the lifeblood of this movie. John is also intriguing for how he manages to stay above corruption with his smarts and common sense, while still attempting to connect with Bree and solve the case. Special mention must go to the cinematography from the masterful Gordon Willis. He already stands as one of my favourite cinematographers and Klute displays his sublime gift for crafting darkness and shadowy intent. Combined with the piercing and perceptive direction of Pakula, the visual elements place is right in the middle of the strange and ever so unnerving story. Even when there is a spot of brightness in the film, something usually shocking or dark is occurring to offset any relief. A tremulous and minimal score that often echoes with eerie intent is employed to supply sufficient atmospheric impact, which it does it droves.
Klute may be the title of the film, but the main story belongs to Bree and how stunningly Jane Fonda essays the role. She garnered a well-deserved Oscar for playing the brittle prostitute and it’s not hard to see why. The character is one of so many angles and contradictions; tough and hard-edged yet achingly vulnerable, openly sexual and yet never really knowing the pleasure of love and seemingly fulfilled but crushed by failed opportunities. For any actress this role would be a high wire act that could have gone wrong, but Jane Fonda’s simply astonishing depth and ability to exhibit all of these traits is really something to behold. I can’t wax lyrical enough about how exceptional her work is here, she just never misses a beat and inhabits the role with a whole bunch of committed emotions, sometimes within a matter of seconds. Donald Sutherland’s wisely understated and stolid playing of the titular private eye is an exemplary counterbalance to Fonda, as he is the one who is doing the digging and managing to somehow remain from getting his hands dirty. In supporting parts, Charles Cioffi as the man Klute reports back to and Roy Scheider as a vicious pimp, do commendable work.
Filled with a piercing and voyeuristic insight into a place of urban and moral decay and exuding some nail-biting suspense, Klute makes a big impact and striking effect as we are invited into this world and behold the fantastic work from the two main actors, particularly a knockout Jane Fonda.