A solid thriller first and foremost but the calibre of talent involved can’t help but heighten Marathon Man into something far more captivating. Schlesinger is all over this. The performances are imbued with the kind of subtle details he always managed to bring out in his actors, and ofcourse having Hoffman, Olivier and Scheider doesn’t hurt either. The way the film seems to constantly push its thriller conventions as far as it can – the sadistic torture scene, for instance, became immediately infamous – feels characteristic of the same filmmaker who made Midnight Cowboy a handful of years earlier. Not to mention the involvement of writer William Goldman who penned the screenplay based on his own novel. Everyone is trying to make the best film they can, basically.
It looks fantastic too with the legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall really going to town on those night exteriors. I’m sure whenever I think of this movie in the future the image that i’ll go to is that of Hoffman shirtless and terrified, running through the rain-slicked NY streets. Or maybe i’ll remember Olivier being accosted by the Jewish woman at the end. The way this charters an America dealing with the long-term impact of the holocaust also brings to mind Lumet’s The Pawnbroker with Olivier’s concentration camp torturer even sharing a passing resemblance to Rod Steiger’s tortured concentration camp survivor from that film. While one is a prestige 70s thriller and the other a radical 60s character study, the two films certainly feel in conversation with one another
Also, not sure if this holds any water, but Marathon Man feels like a cast-iron template for the Bourne franchise, right on down to the down and dirty fist fights, brutal violence and injection of real-world paranoia. Try watching that Scheider hotel room brawl without thinking about any number of Bourne’s signature smackdowns. It’s not hard to draw a line from here right on through to what Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass were up to.
Watched on blu-ray