After a businessman disappears the FBI draw a blank except for some unpleasant letters he wrote to a call-girl. His small-town friend John Klute travels to the big city to seek her out. At first their relationship is wary, and she sees him as just another guy to manipulate. But someone may already be stalking her, and as Klute's activities add to the danger a bond of sorts starts to grow.
Jane Fonda ... Bree Daniels
Donald Sutherland ... John Klute
Charles Cioffi ... Peter Cable
Roy Scheider ... Frank Ligourin
Dorothy Tristan ... Arlyn Page
Rita Gam ... Trina
Nathan George ... Det. Lt. Trask
Vivian Nathan ... Psychiatrist
Morris Strassberg ... Mr. Goldfarb
Barry Snider ... Berger
Betty Murray ... Holly Gruneman
Jane White ... Janie Dale
Shirley Stoler ... Momma Rose
Robert Milli ... Tom Gruneman
What an awesome film. A good movie to contrast this with, is the film "Devil's Own". Both were directed by the late, great Alan J. Pakula, but were products of vastly different quality. You couldn't pick up a paper, and not read about how much Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt hated each other, and the end product suffered because of it. You had the core of a good movie torn apart, because the Pitt part, and the Ford part didn't co-exist.
No Such problem with "Klute". Here, all the pieces fit together. Scheider's suave, non-chalant pimp, Sutherland's lonely, enigmatic pseudo-gumshoe, and Fonda's basket case call girl all fit wonderfully. In fact, there are no slackers in this cast. Michael Small's creepy score also deserves mention, as does Pakula's masterful use of gritty, realistic New York City.
It's almost depressing to watch the raw talent at work in films like "Klute". Nowadays, films are so much the result of magazine polling, and the ever-present bottom line. It's true, we still have independent films, but even they are getting co-opted by big money. Still, I suppose there still are the John Sayles' of the world holding out. God bless 'em.
In 1971, Jane Fonda was a muse worshiped by many teenagers like me, and I was particularly following her work through the sexy and cult sci-fi "Barbarella" and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They", an excellent adaptation of Horace McCoy's novel of the same name that had impressed me a lot. "Klute" was considered erotic in those times and the scene where Dree fakes an orgasm while looking at her watch was a sensation. Later I saw this movie many times on VHS, and now I have just bought the DVD.
"Klute" is really a classic film-noir, one of my favorite movies ever, with an engaging story with thriller, crime and romance, magnificent direction and stunning performances of Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in the role of very believable characters. Jane Fonda deserved the Oscar perfectly playing a very complex character, strong and insensitive with her clients, fragile and confused with love. It is amazing how this movie has not aged and how much I like it every time I see it.
With a delivery that is unmistakably Pakula this is a strange mix of a film that works in some ways and could have been better in others. As a detective mystery it could have been stronger and have more a sense of urgency and those looking for the usual "bad guy/good guy" stuff may find themselves a bit frustrated by the apparent slow pace. However after taking a minute to get into it I found it convincing that we didn't know that much about what was brewing – in the same way that Klute didn't. Pakula delivers the story with a sense of slightly paranoid foreboding that befits the city setting and the fragile state of our main character.
I say main rather than title because although Klute has the billing, the film is as interesting because of the character of Bree as it is because of the detective story. This is helped by an Oscar-winning turn from Fonda, who is very much the heart of the film. The mystery is still the mystery but she fills so much silence with her convincing character, full of nervous energy and contradictions. Whether or not she is representative of the call girls she spent time with before the film doesn't really matter but what is important is that she feels like a very real person. By surprising contrast Donald Sutherland plays his part as if someone had forgotten to plug him in; he is flat and rather dull but perhaps he was directed to not distract or compete. The rest of the cast sees some nice support from Cioffi and Scheider but in the acting stakes Fonda owns the film.
A slow film perhaps but one that draws you in if you preserve with what at first appears to be very cold and dull. The mystery aspect gives the film a direction while Pakula's cold and close direction gives it atmosphere but it is Fonda's performance that has the biggest impact and is the main reason the film works.
"Klute" provides a worthwhile mystery, a wonderful study of its two main characters, and a memorable evocation of its early 70s' origins. Private detective John Klute is hired to look for a family friend who disappears from small-town America into the big, bad city of New York. There he encounters Bree Daniels, the call girl with whom his friend apparently consorted shortly before his death -- and who fears that someone may still be watching her and following her.
The film gradually sheds the mystery that brings these two together, focusing instead on how Sutherland, and especially Fonda, reveal the many shadings and layers of these two lonely, complex characters. It's a paradox: these characters would not be as interesting to watch without the mystery swirling around them; and, as the story begins to concentrate on the relationship and less on the disappearance/stalking case, one senses that, if the mystery ever gets solved, there'd be little to keep them together.
Nevertheless, both Sutherland and Fonda turn in carefully-etched performances -- she, by turns confident, self-absorbed, and manipulative, yet also lonely, empty, and self-loathing; he, rigid, instinctive, and inscrutable, yet just brittle enough that the calculating Bree might be able penetrate the veneer of self-control.
Fonda's performance certainly deserved the Oscar that she won (a remarkable feat considering that, in 1971, she was already a pariah for her antiwar activism), but much of her success was due to playing against Sutherland's understated presence -- he hits just the right note of strength and self-assurance to balance Fonda's talkative neurotic.
There are lots of interesting, small touches here -- the photography, clothing, and New York setting evoke the early '70s with crystal clarity; Bree may be a hooker, but she has a sketch of John F. Kennedy on the wall and sings Gospel hymns to herself; the camera-work is inventive and disorienting; and the chilling score is punctuated by vocals that sound vaguely like distant screams. Unfortunately, the mystery that started the plot rolling becomes secondary by the mid-point, and the film is marred when its careful storytelling gives way to a villain who suffers from the "talking killer syndrome" -- a long soliloquy fills in all the missing plot points and hammers home the villain's motivations (just so that there's no mistaking what made the bad guy tick).
Despite that, there's the unexpected pleasure of Jean Stapleton in a tiny part near the end, shortly before she began to play the most famous dingbat in America. "Klute" was made just months before Stapleton created Edith Bunker, but Edith's already there in "Klute" -- that same shrill, high voice and New York inflection, almost as if it really *is* Edith, working at a part-time job to help out a little with expenses -- and to get some time away from Archie. It's a delightful bonus in a movie that, more than almost anything else, is the perfect evocation of its era.
* Barbra Streisand turned down the role of Bree Daniels, which then won Jane Fonda an Oscar.
* According to her autobiography, Jane Fonda hung out with call girls and pimps for a week before beginning this film in order to prepare for her role. When none of the pimps offered to "represent" her, she became convinced she wasn't desirable enough to play a prostitute and urged the director to replace her with friend Faye Dunaway.
* Bree's apartment was built on a sound stage at a New York film studio where Jane Fonda could spend the night. The director even had a working toilet installed in the bathroom of the set. Jane contributed to decorating the apartment by deciding Bree would be a romance reader and have a cat. Jane remembered an actress from 'Lee Stasberg' 's private class that occasionally serviced JFK, so she decided Bree had done this as well. A signed photo of Kennedy appears on the fridge in Bree's apartment.
* In the original script Bree's psychiatrist was male but Fonda felt in rehearsals, that the character would never open up to a man so she requested that the part be changed to a women. Fonda requested to shoot the scenes with the shrink at the end of shooting so she would have already fully internalized the character of Bree.
SPOILER: Although Fonda had planned on playing scared for the scene with the murderer (played by Charles Cioffi), when she heard the tape recording of the call girl about to be murdered and the fear in her voice, she unexpectedly started crying. She later won the Oscar for best actress for her role.