Marathon Man is a movie I’ve heard excellent things about, one that I’ve heard referenced on multiple occasons, and I’ve never had an opportunity to watch – until now. So, I’ve had an opportunity to watch it – what do I think about it? Oh, my usual warning applies – I’ve got spoilers below the cut, or below the premise if you’re reading the article through an RSS feed or on Facebook.
The Premise: Babe (Dustin Hoffman) is a history major at Columbia University, working on his doctorate. His brother, Doc (Roy Schnider), is (he thinks) a rich and successful international businessman – he’s actually a secret agent. After several attempts on Doc’s life occur, and Babe himself is attacked, he will end up having to match wits with a Nazi war criminal on the run (Lawrence Olivier).The Good: There isn’t a single bad performance in this movie. Not one. Hoffman is great, Schnider is great, Olivier is great. The director did an excellent job getting great actors to appear in this movie, and thus the movie is made better because of it. The direction of the film, as well as the use of Steadycam (which was very new at the time), helps give the film a very grounded look, which considering the subject matter the film needs. However, because the film becomes grounded, we run into the problem with The Bad.
The Bad: Dr. Sznell’s wrist-knife could have been done a little better. From the size of the knife in the movie, he’s basically got a short-sword up his sleeve. Considering how otherwise grounded in reality the movie is (on par with Burn Notice, if not more so), the knife broke my suspension of disbelief. The concept of the weapon works, and actually if the blade was shorter (and maybe even narrower), it wouldn’t have stuck out in my mind so much. But because instead we have this short-sword almost the length of Olivier’s fingertips to his elbow sliding out of his sleeve (with nobody in the area noticing), makes me shake my head.
The Ugly: The final confrontation between Sznell & Babe was anti-climactic. Everything worked up until the end. Sznell being lead to the pumping station worked. Sznell being coersed to eat the diamonds worked. Sznell stumbling and falling on his own sleeve-sword did not work. Particularly the fact that it was a stumble made it difficult to like the scene. If they’d kept it almost exactly the same, but Sznell had dove for it (or as best you can “dive” for something with an actor of Olivier’s age), and the death worked that way, that would have worked better. If the film had ended the way William Goldman had ended it in the book, with Babe shooting Szell, that would have worked better. But Szell seeing the diamonds and the briefcase tumble down the stairs, trying to follow, tripping, falling down the stares and impaling himself on his sword as-shot? Anticlimactic. Not unrealistic, but it was anticlimactic.
The Verdict: This is a very, very good movie. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of the suspense thriller or a general movie buff needs to see this movie. I might even consider this movie part of the cinematic canon, and if anyone from the Library of Congress is reading this – this film needs to be protected due to it’s cultural significance.