I just read those reviews over at IMDB, and they seemed to me to fall into three categories:
- People who loved the movie
- People who thought it was ‘dated’.
- People who missed the point.
Sure, the movie is dated. It was made decades ago. So what? Lots and lots of movies are dated, and if you let that stop you from enjoying it, you’ll miss most of the greatest movies made.
The people who missed the point complained about A) the ambigious ending, and B) the ambiguous motivations of the characters.
But that IS the point of the movie. In the cold war, the line was often pretty gray between the good guys and the bad guys. When the survival of humanity is at stake, it’s pretty easy for people to justify pretty heinous acts to save what’s theirs. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it hard to separate the players sometimes.
There was one review there that I thought was totally whacked. One guy thought the movie was evil because it started by showing Max Von Sydow coldly killing a bunch of good people, and then the reviewer thought that the movie switched gears and portrayed him as a ‘good’ guy because he helped Redford. But that misses the point of the character completely - the Sydow character was totally amoral - he’d kill anyone, anytime, for a buck. And he was so emotionally unmoved by it that he could be a nice kindly man to someone he was about to kill, simply because the contract was rescinded. And his speech to Redford was a perfect summation of his worldview. His life was peaceful, because he owed nothing to anyone. Not to god, country, morality, nothing. To him, it was all about being precise, efficient, and professional. He didn’t lay awake nights examining his soul - his satisfaction came from a job well done, and nothing else. In his spare time he painted little figurines - another task that requires precision and care, and which is totally irrelevant to everyone but the craftsman. I thought it was the best character study of an assassin I’d seen up to that point (and maybe ever).
I maintain that it’s a great movie, flawed only by the unbelievable and gratuitous love scene tacked into the middle.