Marathon Man (1976)

Director: John Schlesinger
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider. USA. 2h 5m

John Schlesinger’s classic thriller, Marathon Man is the type of genre movie that makes a few faux pa’s but through many bizarre plot choices, for the sake of keeping an audience on their toes, the movie generates a lot of massive plot holes but whether you mind them or not, you’ll still be blown away by the sterling acting and gripping story that plunges lead Thomas, better known as Babe (Hoffman), a simple inner city student, into unpredictable situations that make your teeth ache.. if you know you know..

While it doesn’t feel like a brotherly love movie, the film is equally about a pristine but dodgy dealing Doc (Scheider) and his remarkably academic brothers, distant relationship as much as it is about a insipid story of a WW2 nazi criminal on the run with stolen diamonds.

A Thriller.

A naive bookish graduate who gets his thrills from his pursuit of running long distance is induced during one of his powerful early morning runs, Babe has all sorts of frustrations bottled up inside of him, and he’s not the only one. There’s a lot of noticeable tension in the Jewish community around him, when some indescribable events happen in the streets where people believe they are seeing faces from the past, faces of their oppressors and after a nasty car chase one of these war criminals is killed.

Bringing a sense of calm to the movie, Babe’s brother, ?? who secretly works for some kind of shadowy government agency handling those dirty jobs that no one wants to touch, returns to the city to see his brother and begins trying to set him up as bait to pull out Szell, one the nastiest war criminals, who’s come out of hiding in South America to retrieve his diamonds and get some sweet revenge for his brother who recently went up in flames in an unfortunate car accident.. Szell is played by Laurence Olivier, and he’s easily one of the most sinister bad guys in 70’s movie history, with a flick of white hair and a bag of dentistry tools, you’ll be forgiven for skipping “that scene” on any re-watch.

“So I’ll just drill into a healthy tooth until I reach the pulp. Unless, of course, you can tell me that it’s safe”.

-Christian Szell

Doc is like a minute James Bond, he has a strange bloody encounter in his hotel room with a vicious Kato styled concierge, and his demise is set apart from the rest of the movie as Schlesinger decides to use a neon lit ultra modern setting for his showdown with Szell, artistically beautiful but from this point on the movies plot gets a bit confusing. Sznell is paranoid and after killing Doc he then begins to track down his brother because???! Babe is out of his depths and for a while he thinks he’s just over reacting, after all who suddenly believes that nasty secret agent style bond bad guys are actually after them? his apartment is broken into and his tortured and he can’t trust anyone apart from his black neighbours, he can trust them to break into his apartment and rob it when asked nicely..

Schlesinger’s track record includes some really taught thrillers, like Keatons vs Modine in the melting pot that is Pacific Heights, but there’s a bit more sense and reasoning to the unreasonable behaviour in that sticky revenge flick. It feels as if Schlesinger wanted to make a grand gritty drama and he’s done such a stylish job that we’re willing to look past eh faux pas to be taking along on this journey of guttural pain.


Rating: 8/10

Related: Midnight Cowboy (1969), Pacific Heights (1990), The Believers (1987)
Lists: Runners
Spotlight: Lawrence Olivier, Dustin Hoffman



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