Sunday, September 20, 2015

1971: Jane Fonda for Klute

In her first Oscar winning performance, Jane Fonda plays Bree Daniels, a call girl with a homicidal stalker. Private Detective John Klute thinks that her stalker might be connected with his missing friend, and the two of them develop an interesting relationship as they try to track him down.

This was my first time watching this movie, and I really need to watch it again at some point because I was kind of confused for a lot of it. But it was very different from the confusion I felt when watching the previous year's winner, Women in Love. I still haven't figured out why that won Best Actress. With Klute, however, that was the thing I was least confused about. The movie kind of dragged and I wasn't sure I always understood what was going on, but Fonda's acting was superb.

The way the story works depends largely on the audience's perception of Fonda's character. She does a remarkable job of making Bree sympathetic enough for us to be completely on her side while still portraying her as a deeply flawed human being - which in a way makes her even more sympathetic. Though the movie is named after Donald Sutherland's character, and I guess you'd call him the protagonist, Bree is really the central focus of most of the film. There isn't a lot of dialogue; most of the talking comes from tape recordings and sessions with her psychiatrist. This allows us to see her from different perspectives: in the actions of her daily life and in the recordings, she is generally manipulative and self-controlled, but with her psychiatrist she is vulnerable and honest. As her relationship with Klute develops, and as it becomes more and more clear that someone is indeed trying to kill her, that vulnerability begins to appear more and more outside the psychiatrist's office. Fonda makes the audience feel not only that Bree is a real person, but also that we know her inside and out. We understand her fears and insecurities, even as she tries so desperately to hide them from the rest of the world. Without such a deep connection between the audience and Bree, the movie could not have worked. Thanks to Fonda, it does. It's really as simple as that. Sutherland and the other actors do a good job, too - although I swear the creepy guy seems like a different person every time we see him - but it's her performance that brings it all together.

Being the daughter of legendary screen star Henry Fonda, it's not too surprising that Jane turned out to be an incredible actress. She has been nominated for seven Oscars - six Best Actress and one Best Supporting Actress - and won two. This was her second nomination, the first being for 1969's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Her third nomination was for 1977's Julia, and then she won for her fourth nomination for 1978's Coming Home. So I'll be talking about that before too long. But next up is Liza Minnelli, another daughter of a legendary screen star.

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