Posted by: Johnny Loftus on July 31, 2007 at 9:11 am

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The government gasbag’s burden. It’s what so many great spy movies have in common. Flacks, yes men, tubby bureaucrats, and conference room signal callers who are so busy upholding patriotism as a virtue that they lose touch with reality and even their moral code. The men, usually white, are correct in their assessment of our world. There is no government anymore, just corporate city-states and the money and control of natural resources they exchange.

But their method of simultaneously supporting and discouraging these shadowy moneybags characters’ nefarious deeds usually involves coercion or even the execution of innocents, and their protection of patriotism is revealed as nothing more than a front for their own greed. The government gas bag’s burden is the giant canvas sack on his back, the one marked $ with silver and gold coins spilling out of the top.

In Three Days of the Condor, it’s Cliff Robertson’s yes man Higgins who gives Robert Redford’s Joseph Turner (“Condor” to the CIA) the speech, while the job falls to Brian Cox in The Bourne Supremacy. But while gas bags like Cox’s character usually end up getting snuffed, taking their delusional patriotism to their grave, that doesn’t mean the hero wins.

Condor is a wonderful film. It’s full of intrigue, double-crosses, killer mailmen, and Max Von Sydow. But its best moment might be at the very end, with a sudden still frame in motion to suggest (or warn) that Robertson’s gas bag’s version of the speech is probably true. Condor thinks the press will publish what he’s brought them — details on a secret spy ring with the country’s existing spy ring, one the CIA itself doesn’t even know about. It’s a spy ring so secret, in fact, that it’s not really about spying at all, but money. Oil money to be exact. Who has it, who wants it, and what lengths they’ll go to in order to get it. Condor thinks the press will print it, he’ll expose the lies that led to his friends being offed, he’ll be free to go skiing and sip brandy by a roaring fire with a young Faye Dunaway, and he’ll never have to be afraid of that unmarked sedan creeping over his shoulder. But that final shot of the film suggests otherwise. “Today it’s oil, right?” Higgins says to Condor, trying to make him see. “What about 15 years from now? Food? Plutonium?”

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The plutonium line might be a bit dated. But it’s still accurate. Wars will be fought over water; they probably already are. And that’s why, in Condor, Robertson’s Higgins is incredulous when he hears what Redford’s character has done in foolish retaliation. He’s been inside the wet work, dark alley business for so long, he can’t believe it when someone actually believes that there’s a way to stop the dastardly machinery. Higgins knows it’s government work for a government pay grade. But that makes it even easier to take whatever “precautions” are necessary to reach the goal. And since the newspaper barons want to protect their hides in the new world order, too, it’s not like the press will necessarily be able to save Condor. He’ll have to keep running. Because whether you’re a researcher like him or a cold-blooded warrior like Jason Bourne in Supremacy, you’re still a pawn left holding the phone. You’re still expendable, because you aren’t a commodity. And at the other end of the phone is a guy who never sleeps. “Hello, this is The Major…”

Johnny Loftus

[tags]Three Days of the Condor, spy movies, Robert Redford, Cliff Robertson, movies, CIA[/tags]

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