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Marathon Man Review

For those interested in watching a film where Dustin Hoffman prepares for a marathon, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this isn’t the film you’re looking for. Marathon Man is in fact a thriller with ominous undertones. The 70s were a truly great time for thrillers, the narratives often involved seedy organisations, double-crossing and unknown motifs. Director John Schlesinger combines all the expected tropes of this era into something rather palatable and enjoyable, but I can’t help feel that this is more in part due to the inclusion of such an amazing cast, rather than that of any narrative complexities.

Within the narrative, there are a great deal of plot holes. Double-crosses that don’t make a lick of sense, moments of backstabbing that will no doubt frustrate those who are looking for a film with less than a few junctions of confusion. Most of it really comes from the inclusion of Hoffman at the centre. Although it’s a great performance, there’s no real drive behind it aside from the connection he has with his brother, Henry David Levy (Roy Scheider). In the far too brief scenes we have of them together, we come to understand their bond, the secretive nature Scheider possesses and displays is well balanced with the often inopportune or dumbfounded scowls that Hoffman throws towards the camera. His obsession with running does come into play from time to time, yet it feels rather forced and a bit like it detracts from the bigger picture.

But, then again, I struggle to figure out the value of Marathon Man’s bigger picture. There’s no arguing how impressive it is to see Laurence Olivier in a role so villainous it brings pangs of Andrew Wyke from Sleuth, but the talented brain found within that Caine collaboration is replaced by sinister amusement and indifference placed on Christian Szell. As the central villain of the piece, it’s a real surprise that Szell isn’t offered more screen time. Our various confrontations and interactions between Hoffman and Olivier are immense, seeing two greats of the screen collaborate is always an extraordinary image, but frankly, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Schlesinger’s direction hasn’t exactly matured or improved from his previous work on Midnight Cowboy, but then again, that was a film that cemented its director as an extremely competent and fluid utiliser of the camera. Marathon Man doesn’t exactly give us any deeper meanings to his work or his mindset, what he sets to put into a film is plot and plot alone, and I’d struggle to pick out any key readings from the film that would irk a response from its director, who often uses conventional and traditional camera angles to convey the story in as best a light as he can. Perhaps that’s for the best though, because even with this straightforward approach, it’s nigh on impossible to collect it all together in a feasible narrative strain.

Marathon Man wasn’t the grand let down I had expected it to be, but I certainly had much higher hopes for a collaboration that saw three of the biggest 70s stars pool their resources together. An interesting premise and a wholly thrilling diving point end in a rather minimal splash, one that turns to predictability and the occasional confusing twist to make sure its audience is still awake. Schlesinger attempts to give us one of the finest thrillers ever put to film, but his incessant drive causes an overlapping of confusing mementos spread across a rich story.

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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