• Daniel Rae

Marathon Man Review

"Marathon Man", Paramount Pictures, 1976

The first adjective that comes to mind when I now think of this film is jolty - It's vapid style has its pros and its cons.

It took a while for me to warm up and see the artistic merit in how the plot is presented, which is very disjointed. This instantly reminded me of the style of Hoffman's work on Midnight Cowboy - the unpredictable-yet-monotonous pacing that unravelled the psychological torment of Joe Buck can also be seen here, however I feel that this time around it feels a bit more barren and empty. Although this may be reflective of the book that the film is adapted from rather than Midnight Cowboy, I feel this more contemplative angle that aims to meander rather than provide an emotional deep-dive holds its own individual meaning. I think it works effectively with the rhythm of the imagery of people running - whilst the opening sequence shows Hoffman's character running in a steady tracking shot, other sequences manage to carry the same sense of momentum through the jagged editing style. This impression of turbulence that runs throughout the film purposefully opens the room for open spectatorship - perhaps inviting audiences to peer in through the window of a character who is removed from the sanctuary of family identity with his brother occupying a different line of work, tying back well into the diegesis. This sense of reflexivity that almost understands the wonky nature of its style can also be seen in the poetic-tinged narrative structure. The very abrupt cutaways to the repeating imagery of his father's death and the unconventional use of shot types to establish the movement in the story, whilst being somewhat grading, is effective in highlighting the notion of progression (perhaps emotional) to be equally as grading, especially with the lack of trust between the characters that haunts the diegesis. This is enhanced by the muted colour palette which captures the gritty streets of New York City beautifully.

Nevertheless, whist there is room for powerful meaning to be found through this style, there is also room for inconsistencies. This can be seen with the lack of room for the audience to identify with anything else other than the disturbing subtext that surrounds the characters. To me, Baby comes across as a platform for Schlesinger to explore the different avenues that the narrative can go. As interesting as these are, I feel that Hoffman's performance is instantly weakened as a result. Whilst Schlesinger does try to vary up use of tone with a variety of different, unorthodox shot types, such as off Baby running away from Janeway (shaping a very intense and engaging chase scene), I feel that the attention towards character motives are either too binary or not fully-realised. Even some of the other characters actually pivotal to the progression of the story simply fill their role by being there - with some more enthralling direction I feel Schlesinger could've broken past the emotional boundaries of the novel and dug a bit deeper into these people as humans.

Whilst I'm happy that I watched it, presenting some of what I find moving in cinema as an art form, ultimately, some of the fat doesn't necessarily need to be cut off, but perhaps presented with more tonal and spatial cohesion. Whilst I feel this film is successful in presenting a dizzying experience that places us in the mindset of a character as far removed from the "safe" as we are, I only found some enjoyment out of it.

3.5/5 Stars

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