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Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Retro Review: Marathon Man (1976)

Marathon Man
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Schneider, William Devane, Marthe Keller 
Genre: Suspense/ Thriller
U.S Box office Gross: $28.2 million

Plot:  A graduate student and obsessive runner in New York is drawn into a mysterious plot involving his brother, who is a member of the secretive division

'Keeps On Running'

Marathon Man is a contemporary espionage -style thriller of a movie that was originally released in 1976 starring Dustin Hoffman that is filled with action, suspense and surprises galore. The title of the film refers to Thomas being a marathon runner finding himself on the run. 

The movie is well known for the line, ''is it safe?'' as uttered by the German psycho antagonist, Dr Szell played by one of the greats, Laurence Olivier and infamous dental chair scene where Dustin's Thomas is subjected to horrific and brutal torture as his teeth are examined and extracted. This scene alone is so terrifying, it sends chills down my spines and thus, is so difficult to watch. 

I've stumbled across a comment from a website from a person saying that this film is overrated - which I completely disagree with. Marathon Man is severely underrated as a Dustin Hoffman movie - and one that rarely appears on many top ten lists that I have scoured online. Director John Schlesinger pulled off a thriller of a film with a gritty and dark streetwise look of Taxi Driver & Raging Bull.  

Marathon Man is an intense, taut and yet riveting and top-notch psychological thriller around fear, doubt and conspiracy. The opening scene of this movie is unlike any I have seen before: I won't go into too much detail but it was chaotic, intense and the two old men: one who was Jewish, the other an ex-Nazi who were bickering and getting on each other's nerves -only to end in catastrophe. I liked it a lot and this set off a chain of events that occur in Marathon Man

Like a marathon runner, it's about how much further you are willing to run and to run away from your fears or be it confront them and defeat them. The central character himself is a marathon runner, who is fit & strong: not just physically on the outside and yet he has to have the mental and emotional strength and endurance to get him through the most difficult & pain-staking ordeals imaginable. He is bullied, beaten to a pulp by Szell's thugs and after being rescued by a so-called cop, the following scene finds 'Babe' in the hands of the same thugs & gets beaten up again. Thomas finds himself involved with a German girlfriend, who has a few secrets of her own hidden up her sleeve, as well as being embroiled in a plan to have him killed, but yet who doesn't understand why he is targeted by the bad guys. Until very much later on in the film. The only thing he does know is that he has to keep running for his life, to preserve his life, - or else he'll be dead. Thomas is the most unlikely hero you will ever see in a movie, who becomes heroic. 

Aged 38 at the time of the movie's filming, Hoffman portrays a mature student studying at university and though some people might take issue with him playing a student, as he was almost nearing 40 in the mid 1970's and alas, there are students today who are in the mid- 30s at university/college studying for their degrees, I didn't any have quarrels about this. Despite his diminutive stature, Hoffman successfully handles the physical scenes really well, and you can tell by looking at his physical stature how much training he had to undergo to prepare himself for the jogging scenes in the park and his encounter with Laurence Olivier's character towards the end of the film. He looks in great shape. His overall performance was sublime and raw as he conveys the many emotions & feelings his character underwent, with people getting shot and murdered, twists that occur out of nowhere and ultimate betrayal. Dustin always has that natural ability to portray vulnerable and multi-layered protagonist and anti-hero characters and with heart and emotion. 

There are so many thrillers, modern thrillers of today especially that end up being underwhelming and so throw away when they lack spice, intrigue, as well as having underdeveloped characters: Marathon Man is an exception to this. It's violent, disturbing at times, but it is also stylish, nail-biting and well- produced with a taut feeling and great performances to back it up.  Even if the plot is taxing and complicated to understand, it is still a highly watchable thriller. & good thing this was made and released in the 1970s: had Marathon Man been produced today, the director would overdo it with the special effects, it would have weak performances and even worse dialogue. Laurence Olivier is so nasty and evil and diabolical as Nazi Dr Szell he'd swallow up diamonds, rather than give or return them to their rightful owners. His character was so dis-likeable, I was happy when he got his comeuppance by Thomas during the final scene.

After the amazing Midnight Cowboy, John Schlesinger went down a completely different path by going down the espionage thriller route, yet he once again triumphed and he went even further with Marathon Man as a film. 

The film does move at a slow pace, though the events that occur themselves are well paced and the twists were good. Some of the scenes, which weren't very interesting and lacked excitement, dragged on in places. But if you stick with it, it's totally worth it. It also contains very graphic and violent moments and uses of the F-word; therefore, if you are thinking of showing this to younger children, don't. In addition, there are one or two sex scenes; one of them with Dustin's character in the nude and a few other bloody scenes, especially when Thomas's brother is strangled by a piece of wire and he fights the guy off and snaps his neck in two. There are characters, but for Thomas, double-crossing one another and double-crossing him. It's moments like these that make the 2- hour viewing worth waiting for. 

Before Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man of 1988, there was a film about a guy finding himself on the run and it starred Dustin Hoffman, and plus, this is every bit as good and enthralling as that particular movie. 

Final Verdict:

Marathon Man is an excellent cutting-edge thriller, but it is also by no means a happy film: Thomas comes through in the end, and yet this isn't without suffering along the way and coming scathed - & boy does he suffer and it was terrifying to watch

In HD, the movie still looks fantastic today and for a film that was released in a decade where I wasn't born, watching it currently, it still holds up really well. Dustin Hoffman excels as Thomas and becomes the star of the film, and Marathon Man is also yet another in the long line of terrific acting performances and movies by one of the finest actors of the last generation. 

Compared to other Dustin Hoffman's more established movies like Tootsie, Rain Man, Kramer vs. Kramer, this effort is severely overlooked and a classic worth seeing. Although you may want to prepare yourself for the infamous dental scene. 

Highly recommended. 


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