I wasn’t really sure what to think of Klute while I was watching it. All that I could really piece together about the film were its credentials; it stars Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, is directed by Alan J. Pakula (who would go on to do All the President’s Men), and that Fonda would win an Oscar for her performance. Knowing this, I went into the film with a deliberate eye towards Fonda’s performance, but there was very little else I was specifically keeping in mind. I don’t know if this contributed to the somewhat empty and unsatisfied feeling that Klute left me with; perhaps I set up exactly what I was going to end up with after the film was over, and the film simply did nothing to change those expectations. Regardless, this film doesn’t really do a whole lot, except linger, which it does incessantly. Being a film principally about paranoia, I’ll give the film that it somehow is effective at what it tries to do; it’s just how it actually figures out how to do what it wants to do that makes me look at it a little funny.
The titular Klute is John Klute (Sutherland), a private detective, and a rather stoic and introverted individual. He is called to investigate the disappearance of a family friend, an executive, through which he is eventually led to a call girl, Bree Daniels (Fonda), the executive had apparently written a number of letters to, who after some trepidation agrees to help him in his investigation. The film is honestly a little weird; nothing seemed to be impactful, neither any of the actions of the characters nor any of the plot turns and hints dropped, the film makes no secret as to who the bad guy is, and the score would enter scenes pretty much at random. It was a little under a half hour into the film that the fact it’s a neo-noir finally hit me, which helped to relieve some of the confusion, but the weirdness of the film still continued, and it wasn’t just reserved to the story; it was also in how the story was told. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis like to indulge in shots that I’d best describe as rule-breakers. There’s a shot near the beginning, for instance, that starts on a client of Bree’s, and then dollies backward out into the hallway, leaving the left half of the shot the interior of the room, and the right half all darkness and unlit hallway. Having all of the action take place entirely in the left half of the frame, with the figure in the frame looking left out of frame instead of into the empty space, pretty much goes against everything they teach you about shot composition. Still, it’s here, which means it serves a purpose, even though the only purpose I could come up with while watching it was to be a deliberate rule breaker. Not to mention the central mystery itself, which Klute gains no leads on for the majority of the film, and then, out of nowhere, is given an especially incriminating piece of evidence that leads him straight to the man who did it. It calls into question pretty much the entirety of the film; if the central mystery is going to be almost literally handed to him, then what is the point of the film? I’d wager a guess that the film itself thinks it’s the relationship between Klute and Bree, but even this is never really built up; it just sorta happens, regardless of what else has occurred in the film up to then, much like everything else in the film.
There are a number of other issues I had with the story and how it was told, but to go into them in any depth would be inviting spoilers, so I’ll leave them untouched for now. Frankly, I can’t fault the film too much for why it is the way it is; it just wasn’t my cup of tea, especially in how the film was put together and presented its material. It wasn’t just that the film was anticlimactic; it’s that the entire film felt this way, and thus I never really invested myself in any way into the film, which made the almost two hours the film takes up an exercise in monotony and boredom. Hopefully, you’ll fare a little better with this one, but if you’re a regular moviegoer in both senses of the word, don’t be surprised if this just leaves you scratching your head in puzzlement; not because you didn’t get it, but because it seemed as though the film itself didn’t know what to get itself.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10