This movie proves you don’t have to shoot in black and white to make a noir film. The camera work is arty, with a lot of shots from a fair distance away, and with the action not centered conventionally. It sometimes draws attention to itself, but I didn’t think that was a real problem. Usually it enhanced the feeling of dread, as did the music. I’m not the first one to point out that a more appropriate title would have been Bree, which was the name of the prostitute Jane Fonda played. Klute was a detective played by Donald Sutherland in one of the most subdued performances I’ve ever seen. He basically never changed expressions.
What a plum role this was for Fonda. It is a complex character, which we see in scenes where she goes around the city with Klute, and also speaks to her psychiatrist, trying to figure out why it’s been so hard for her to give up turning tricks. She keeps getting lured back in, and one reason is easy to see: for a call girl, it can be very profitable. Another reason is that she is very good at it. Yet a third reason is her need to be in control. I’m sure there would be deeper reasons, too, going back to her childhood, but luckily we don’t go there. The most effective scenes are as we descend layer by layer into the world of selling yourself for sex. First a high-class house. Then a slightly seedier one. We end up with a desperate junky who used to be Bree’s friend. We can see Bree realizing that this could have been her.
Nothing about this movie is over the top. It is quite restrained, and centers around Fonda’s Oscar-winning performance. She deserved it, though I waver a little in that opinion when I realize that Julie Christie was also nominated for McCabe and Mrs. Miller. There is an early appearance by Roy Scheider as Bree’s ex-pimp, before he got his breakout role in The French Connection.