When you get down to it, you can examine “Klute” as something of a neo-noir set in the darkness of New York City where society shifted out of the Free Love era and in to much dimmer years. But deep down “Klute” manages to be a rather fantastic character study about a woman who is hopelessly and probably forever exploited by the world. Throughout “Klute” she struggles with whether she wants to have what she perceives as an easy ride and allow herself to become exploited, or resist, and try to carve out a better world for her that’s more respectable, but so much tougher than she’s prepared to handle.
In a small town in Pennsylvania, an industrial researcher Tom Gruneman (Robert Milli) goes missing in the Big Apple. Anxious, his boss Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi), hires clumsy private eye John Klute (Donald Sutherland) to figure out what has happened to him. Klute is handed a stack of explicit letters that Gruneman wrote to suspected lover Bree Daniels, and travels to the New York. Klute quickly tracks Bree down and with her help investigates a seedy, sleazy world filled with call girls, pimps, drug dealers, and all kinds of other shady characters have learned to coexist in perfect harmony.
Although the movie is primarily centered in the titular John Klute, the movie aptly belongs to Jane Fonda, who gives a stunning Oscar winning role. As Bree Daniels, she’s a woman subjected to consistently being judged and sexualized, even when she’s not working as a call girl. She’s unfortunately stuck in a vicious cycle where she tries to be taken seriously as an actress on her off time, while also submitting herself to men sexually as an object as a means of making extra money. The connecting to Tom Gruneman makes her a quick target, as she’s convinced she’s being watched, and director Alan J. Pakula lets us in on what’s occurring.
True, she might very well be under surveillance or is being stalked by someone, but she’s also stuck in a large and unwelcome city where exploitation is a way of life. The deeper John Klute digs in to the murder of Gruneman with Bree Daniels, the more the pair becomes painfully aware of how much people tend to exploit one another; especially when it’s justified as merely attempting to survive. Bree is a woman at odds with her own sense of morality and that conflict with Klute’s sense of righteousness. He’s not particularly a great investigator, but he is someone with a clear cut idea of clearing Gruneman’s name. This becomes so much tougher the deeper he digs in to the darker world of sexual exploitation.
His realization at the lure of it is somewhat Earth shattering, as he views Bree’s inability to escape prostitution, while also slowly falling victim to her irresistible sexual allure. “Klute” is a wonderful film that can be appreciated on so many levels and wavelengths, demonstrating style, grit, and a narrative that pits focus on the unforgiving landscape of New York City.
The Criterion Edition comes with the eighteen minutes Pakula, a collection of new interviews that were conducted by Matthew Miele for an upcoming documentary about the life and legacy of Alan J. Pakula. The majority of the exhaustively compiled information addresses the psychology of Pakula’s films and their visual appearance, as well as the making of “Klute.” Among the interviewees are critic Annette Insdorf, Steven Soderbergh, and actor Charles Cioffi. Also included are clips from an archival interview with the director.
There’s a thirty six minutes video program with Jane Fonda and Illeana Douglas; Jane Fonda recalls her work with Alan J. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis on Klute, and discusses her research work as well as the film’s main themes and period ambience. The Look of “Klute” is a twenty six minutes new video program with fashion writer Amy Fine Collins, who takes a closer look at the period appearance and style of Klute, all of which became very popular upon its initial release. Among archived television Interviews, there’s the twenty eight minutes sit down with Alan J. Pakula on The Dick Cavett Show from 1978; the director discusses his working methods as well as the working conditions in the film industry at the time.
There’s also a thirty eight minutes interview from 1973 with Jane Fonda and Midge Mackenzie. Finally there’s the nine minutes “Klute” in New York, a vintage program that chronicles the just-launched production of Klute. Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Alan J. Pakula share their impression of a ‘changed’ New York, which cinematographer Gordon Willis talks about the style and look of the film. The Criterion packaging comes with a twenty six page illustrated booklet featuring “Truing to See Her” by Mark Harris, “She’s Nowhere” by Alan J. Pakula, and technical credits.