Marathon Man Reviews
What I will say is that when the story was actually in full swing I found it riveting. I did tense up out of concern for Hoffman and started to get invested, wondering what would happen next. I also liked the way Marathon Man handled flashbacks, showing us just enough to understand what happened and why it made an impact on Hoffman. The acting performances are also quite good which is what you'd expect with that cast list. I think I just expected more. Even in the most famous scene, where Hoffman is being tortured, I had heard so much about it so I expected something considerably worse. The actual scene seemed mild compared to my expectations. The whole film lacked the kind of classic movie magic I anticipated, and even the ending was a bit of a let down. I don't want to dissuade anyone who has interest in exploring Marathon Man, because it's certainly not a horrible film. But I would temper your expectations and be prepared for a very slow start (which includes an absolutely stupid car crash that gets the plot rolling.) I wanted to like Marathon Man more, but sadly it didn't go the distance.
Marathon Man is clearly a dated film because it takes a lot of time to establish its atmosphere, and in the process it has a lot of plot dynamics piling up on each other. And because of that, the entire first hour of Marathon Man is slow. There are little thrills and a lot of talking. Yet although there is too much talking there isn't enough dialogue to really explain what is happening thoroughly. Despite attempting to keep my focus in Marathon Man, I was really confused at the context of the story. There are many characters and the relevance of all of them gets confusing. I really wasn't sure what the motives of the enemies were or the relevance of the character Henry "Doc" Levy because the story attempted to explain too much within an hour and just didn't do it for me. I was left more confused than Thomas "Babe" Levy, so if the filmmakers' intention was to make audiences feel as confused as Thomas "Babe" Levy then they did a fine job. I do not think that is the case though, and so impatient audiences who can't handle the slow pace or make it to the second hour are not viewers that should take time out for Marathon Man.
Marathon Man redeems itself with an exceptional second hour. By the point of the second hour, Marathon Man has become incredibly intense. The story begins to touch upon some intense subject matter directly on the screen, starting with torture. The film picks up when the torture scene begins because from that point on Thomas "Babe" Levy is always at threat of being killed, and by enhancing the atmosphere through an edgy and intense musical score, the intensity never drops. It was Sam Raimi himself who said that once you make a film intense, you can't stop the intensity from there, and that is exactly what director John Schlesinger establishes after a clunky first half. The second act of Marathon Man more than makes up for the first part because it doesn't drop its tension for a second, and it makes it easy to feel just what Thomas "Babe" Levy is experiencing although from a third person perspective. So the intense atmosphere is the most admirable trait about Marathon Man. And it is also filmed very well thanks to its cinematography constantly focusing on the intense expressions of the characters' faces as they get involved with the situations they face off with. The cinematography captures everything and it does a lot for the actors because it reveals their facial emotions very strongly. So Marathon Man really does everything to ensure that it is rich with atmospheric tension, and it pays off because the second half of Marathon Man is some of the most intense cinema I have ever seen.
And importantly, the cast makes the brutality of the film feel realistic.
Dustin Hoffman role as the titular Marathon Man is great. As well as having a great athleticism due to his quick sprinting, Dustin Hoffman makes Thomas "Babe" Levy a character easy to identify with. He is a character dragged into a world that was thought to have finished many decades ago, and in the process he becomes victimised by the insane obsessions of criminals. And audiences are likely to cringe at his suffering because of how well Dustin Hoffman convinces viewers of his suffering. Dustin Hoffman puts up a hell of an intense lead performance and always has a sense of humanity in him which prevents him from falling into being nothing but a one dimensional character who becomes an unrealistic hero. Dustin Hoffman's tense and gritty performance is very strong and makes The Marathon Man consistently watchable.
But anyone can tell you that Laurence Olivier is the standout performance with his Academy Award nominated and Golden Globe winning performance as Dr. Christian Szell. Of all of his performances, Laurence Olivier has never given one as sick and twisted as the experimental nazi dentist Dr. Christian Szell in Marathon Man. He executes his performance by being a manipulative character and keeping the evil nature of him subtle yet clear. The evil in him comes from what he does but not how he does it. Because everything that Dr. Christian Szell does keeps the emotional tension within him because he acts professionally while you can see the evil in the look of his eyes. The intense way that Laurence Olivier plays Dr. Christian Szell is remarkable, and the intensity in his scenes focused solely on him and Dustin Hoffman is incredible.
Roy Scheider and William Devane also give strong supporting performances.
So while Marathon Man has a cluttered and slow first half, the incredible acting and undeniable intensity in its second half more than make up for it.