Movie of the Week: Marathon Man (1976)

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John Schlesinger directs Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier and Roy Scheider in this paranoid thriller about a nervy post-graduate who finds himself being chased by a Nazi in hiding and the secret government agency assisting him in smuggling his diamonds. 

Infamous for its dentistry based torture scene, Marathon Man is so much more than just that iconic moment. You get a completely frazzled central turn from Hoffman. He seems hounded by all the ills of the 20th century; Nazis, communist witch hunts, urban decay, government cover ups. He’s fantastic here as the persecuted yet resourceful Babe. But Olivier, Schieder, William Devane, Marthe Keller and James Wing Woo all put in inscrutably, oily supporting performances as the cold methodical participants in Babe’s night on the run. As chase movies go it uncommonly takes a good hour before we start our mad dash for survival. A melancholy air of inevitability hangs over us as we watch dominoes knock into each other setting up the rally. We watch the pieces fall into place with increasing speed – gripping, haunting set pieces occurs thousands of miles away from the protagonist yet are just as compelling. Schlesinger uses living city locations and refractural editing to create a sense of tumultuous chaos. The soundtrack whines ominously. We know nice, awkward Babe is eventually going to get chewed up in this whirr of backstabbing and assassinations. This is how you do it. This is how you create a dangerous atmosphere. “Is it safe?” No it is fucking terrifying. Run, Dustin, Run!

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