Monday, March 18, 2024

Klute and Tender Mercies

Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda.
Klute (1971). When a businessman suddenly disappears and obscene letters are found among his work papers, the man's wife hires private detective John Klute to conduct an investigation. Klute (Donald Sutherland) quickly learns that the mystery centers around part-time NYC prostitute Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), the intended recipient of the letters. Bree doesn't remember the missing man, but thinks he could have been a client that beat her up years earlier--and may be stalking her now. More character study than psychological thriller, Klute earned Jane Fonda a Best Actress Oscar for her performance and garnered a nomination for its screenplay. The decision to reveal the villain's identity barely 45 minutes into the movie is an interesting one. Unlike Hitchcock's Vertigo, that knowledge doesn't generate any tension. Rather, it robs Klute of its potential as a whodunit (though the villain's identity is obvious from the beginning, so perhaps that's irrelevant). Clearly, the writers and director Alan J. Pakula are more interested in exploring what makes Bree and Klute tick. In Bree's case, they take the direct approach by including her therapy sessions with her psychiatrist. These monologues provide an acting field day for Fonda, though the character insights are strictly Psychology 101 (e.g., Bree's "tricks" make her feel like she controls her interactions with men for a brief period). As a result, the more interesting character is the quiet and always watchful John Klute. Relentless in his investigation, the introspective detective shows his patience as he develops feelings towards Bree and eventually pierces her self-defensive veneer. Sutherland gives a compelling portrayal and it's a shame that his acting was not as widely recognized as Fonda's. She is very good, but Sutherland is the reason to watch Klute--after all, the movie was named after his character. 

Duvall as Mac Sledge.
Tender Mercies
 (1983).  After a night of heavy drinking, Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), a washed-up, alcoholic country singer, wakes up at an isolated Texas roadside motel and gas station. The owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), allows him work in exchange for room and board. Mac slowly rebuilds his life, creating a family with Rosa Lee and her young son Sonny and even recording music again. Like its protagonist, Tender Mercies is a quiet, slow-moving film that finds emotional resonance in its simplicity. Director Bruce Beresford lovingly captures the rustic setting with the wind whistling gently across the plains. Robert Duvall delivers a low-key, natural performance that earned him a Best Actor Oscar (the motion picture, Beresford, and screenwriter Horton Foote were nominated as well). Although it's a film about redemption, writer Foote ensures that Tender Mercies avoids easy resolutions. Mac's relationship with his ex-wife remains full of friction and his efforts to reconnect with his adult daughter are hindered by tragedy. In the end, Mac finds an inner peace of sorts, but every day will still bring its own challenges so that one has to cherish each moment of contentment.

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