It's odd ... I've seen Klute before, but all I could remember of it (vaguely) was that it ended inside a building with hallways and offices. That turned out to be accurate enough, but if that's all there was to Klute, it wouldn't have been good enough to watch again. Because while Klute is a serviceable mystery thriller, serviceable is as good as the thriller gets. It's no better than a hundred others.
You'd think I'd remember Jane Fonda, because her performance not only carries the movie, but is one of the great acting jobs ever. Fonda has always struck me as an intelligent actress ... you can see her brain working. At her best, though, she makes that intelligence seem a natural part of the character she is playing. Sometimes, you'll see an actor trying so hard to stay on top of a role that the effort distracts from the result. Other times, an actor will bury themselves so deeply that all you get is emotion. But Fonda can convey intelligence and emotion at the same time, no more so than as Bree Daniels in Klute.
Bree is only confident when she's turning tricks. She is in control when she can make men do what she wants while making them think it's them who want it. But she herself wants more, as we learn in her therapy sessions. She isn't as sure of herself in the therapist's office as she is when she's working. And when the environment in which she works turns more dangerous than usual, her fear is rooted in the loss of control that implies.
The writing is good enough to earn an Oscar nomination (it lost to Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital, and I've had a soft spot for another runner-up from that year, Penelope Gilliatt's Sunday Bloody Sunday). (It's interesting that I described Glenda Jackson in the latter film by saying "her acting often suggests an intelligent woman" ... although later I noted that "Glenda Jackson in particular is always clearly acting … she’s very good at it, but she isn’t a 'natural' actress.") As I say, the script is fine, but it is at its best in making room for Fonda's work as Bree. The actual mystery is pretty mundane.
Alan Pakula doesn't help much, although this remains my favorite of his movies. He attaches his standard, spooky paranoia (The Parallax View), but is rather aimlessly arty when it's not necessary. Gordon Willis is his usual great self as cinematographer (for no reason, I blame Pakula for the arty stuff). His next movie was The Godfather.
I've gotten this far without mentioning Donald Sutherland, who after all plays the title character. He does an excellent, self-effacing job ... he stays out of Fonda's way, supports her the way Klute supports Bree.
But this is Jane Fonda's picture. She got the second of her seven Oscar nominations, and picked up her well-deserved first win, beating out, among others, the aforementioned Jackson in Sunday Bloody Sunday.
As for a rating, I was torn between a 9/10 to reflect Fonda's performance, and 7/10 to reflect the rest of the movie. Since I apparently already gave it 7/10 that forgotten time when I'd seen it before, and since I want to tip my cap to Jane Fonda, 8/10.
Karina Longworth's great podcast, "You Must Remember This", just finished a series on Fonda and Jean Seberg. This episode discusses Klute:
Here's a scene from Klute:
Fonda discussed her role on Inside the Actors Studio:
Finally, here's one of the most famous (and shortest) Oscar acceptance speeches of all time. People were worried she would "get political". She asked her father what she should say, and then she took his advice: