Film: Klute

It had been decades since I last saw Klute (1971), so I thought it was time to revisit it. I’m glad, because I suspect I’m much better equipped to appreciate this one now than when I originally watched it way back in screenwriting class. This grungy New York noir from director Alan J. Pakula follows the investigation of a subdued private detective named John Klute (Donald Sutherland). When Klute’s close friend Tom Gruneman (Robert Milli) goes missing, the police discover a number of typewritten letters—supposedly written by Gruneman—that tie him to the disturbing harassment of a call girl in New York City named Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda). When the police case goes cold, Klute continues the investigation on his own, and he starts his efforts by interviewing Bree, a complicated woman whose reluctant assistance proves crucial to the case. As the investigation continues, though, the relationship between Klute and Bree becomes more complex, and the mystery much more dangerous.

Klute is a nicely structured, low-key mystery, but it’s an even better character study, driven by Fonda’s scintillating, Oscar-winning performance. In what must have been a groundbreaking role at the time, Fonda is utterly convincing as a prostitute struggling to come to grips with her profession, which affords her the agency the rest of the world denies her. Unfortunately, the job makes her the target of a misogynistic reign of terror, from which Klute—an unlikely knight in shining armor—shields her. Sutherland is restrained in the title role, but he’s always had that certain something, and brings his usual mystique. In the end, though, this is Fonda’s film, and it’s worth watching for her performance alone; odd (or not, I suppose) that the film was not named after her character.

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