This is one of those movies that hammer home points about modern living with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, yet somehow are hard not to love. The film is a crime thriller, in which a high-placed corporate executive, Tom Gruneman, disappears and, after a six-month investigation, the police have yet to find him.
It’s at this point that fellow high-muckety-muck executive, Peter Cable, brings private investigator John Klute (played ever-so-stoically by Donald Sutherland) in on the matter. Cable provides Klute with the amazing results of the cops’ six-month investigation—one obscene letter from Gruneman to a prostitute named Bree Daniels (played with snide aplomb by Jane Fonda). Apparently, Daniels received several such letters from Gruneman.
What follows is a story that is such a reflection of the cynicism of the early 70s that, at times, it seems to overplay its hand a bit. Klute follows Daniels—even going so far as to tap her phone—and we get to see her ply her trade, in delightfully voyeuristic detail. Small wonder that this film has been called the first of Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” (along with The Parallax View and All The President’s Men).
The glimpses into Daniels’ life don’t stop with her clientele interactions. We also get to sit in on her sessions with her shrink. These sessions not only reveal Daniels’ most secret thoughts, but demonstrate (in a somewhat over-the-top way) the Zeitgeist of that time. Freedom vs. commitment; job satisfaction vs. financial gain; and conformity vs. individuality.
The best part about this movie is watching Klute ever-so-slowly gain Daniels’ trust—despite her initial repulsion to the man. Not to mention some of the priceless lines that Fonda gets to toss off, such as these: “What’s your bag, Klute? What do you like? Are you a talker? A button freak? Maybe you like to get your chest walked around with high-heeled shoes. Or make ’em watch you tinkle. Or maybe you get off wearing women’s clothes. Goddamned hypocrite squares!”
Warning: This video may contain quick spoilers.
Ripostes like that sum up the anti-establishment feel of the movie. At the same time, as Klute steers Daniels down the rabbit hole of her life, she’s forced to face her own ambivalent feelings about it.
As for the solution, it comes. And, without revealing spoilers, I’ll just say that it fits the anti-establishment, corporate paranoia theme. But, if you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense.
Regardless, Jane Fonda gives an amazing performance—it won her an Oscar. Perhaps that’s why I love this movie so much, despite whatever failings the plot may have.
That’s why I’m giving it two thumbs up!