Sydney Pollack’s 1975 film “Three Days of the Condor,” adapted from author James Grady’s 1974 conspiracy thriller “Six Days of the Condor,” has now become a miniseries, simply titled “Condor.” Like a game of telephone each has something to do with the previous version, while turning into something quite different.
At their shared core is the story of a more or less regular guy who has discovered something — or a fraction of something — that has him running for his life, while antagonistically tied to a woman he must convince of his innocence. (Alfred Hitchcock built a few films on this armature.) Certain other key incidents, and some stray lines of dialogue, make the cut into this largely enjoyable new iteration on Audience Network via DirecTV and AT&T U-verse, but I will leave them vague in case this territory is all new to you. At the same time, knowledge of earlier “Condor” properties is not a reliable guide to exactly where this one, which adds volumes of new material, is headed.
The regular person is Joe Turner (Max Irons, in a part previously occupied by Robert Redford), a CIA analyst who reports an intriguing pattern to his superiors, kicking off a chain of calamitous events. (“Condor” was Turner’s code name in the original; unless I missed it, the word has no context here.) The woman is Kathy Hale (Katherine Cunningham, succeeding Faye Dunaway), a bystander who becomes his unwilling host and hostage after things go south. If the new stars lack the widescreen glamour of their predecessors, they fill as much of the screen as they need to, and play well together.
Much is elaborated upon; new characters, including the habitually understated William Hurt as Joe’s uncle-mentor, have been created and formerly minor figures blown up to major ones: the assassin played by Max von Sydow in “Three Days of the Condor” gets a gender swap into the person of Leem Lubany. Some get families, some of whose members get threads of their own. As the plot lines stretch this way and that and back into the past, the main thread — there is one — can get a little lost. Still, the parts themselves make sense, even when you can’t recall how they fit together.
The Pollack film, which arrived a year after the Nixon resignation and a year before Redford appeared in “All the President’s Men,” is a classic of 1970s funky naturalism. Rendered in Teflon shades of gray and blue, on sets that seem not to have been dressed so much as scrubbed of character, “Condor” is its tonal opposite. But it does makes throwaway references to other films from the 1970s: A brief scene involving a contract killer seems meant to recall Martin Sheen’s mirror-breaking existential crisis at the start of “Apocalypse Now,” while fans of Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” will happily note a reference to “Curry brand cat food.”
The new version adds contemporary touches to the narrative: the surveillance state, hacktivism, post-9/11 sociopolitical psychology and, of course, Tinder. There are cellphones where there once were phone booths, and laptops where there was once the the encyclopedia. (The main quality of the “Three Days” Joe, besides being as handsome as Robert Redford, was that he read a lot and remembered everything.) Fathers and their children, particularly sons, figure into it repeatedly, but whether this is the writers exercising a theme or just in a rut I can’t say.
Created by Todd Katzberg, Jason Smilovic and Ken Robinson, “Condor” is also more intellectually aggressive than the Pollack film, which crammed most of its thoughts about the way of the world into one climactic confrontation; characters here endlessly argue politics and philosophy and human nature, at work and at home, at fancy dinner parties and poolside bull sessions. (“Always funny listening to the white man explain how the world works,” a Native American character says early in the series, something to remember through the rest of it.)
Each episode begins with an epigram, from sources including George Eliot (“What loneliness is more lonely than distrust”), Joseph Stalin (“Death is the solution to all problems. No man, no problem”) and James Baldwin (“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”). Bob Balaban’s CIA deputy director reads to his dying wife from “War & Peace,” and not the romantic bits but a passage on great events, human will and divine intervention.
This can seem a little tedious — not to discourage ambition, but “Condor” is, in the main, the most rewarding at its most thoughtless — but there is more action than talk, ample suspense and vivid characterizations. Not the least of the series’ pleasures is its contribution to the continuing return to the screen of Brendan Fraser and Mira Sorvino. Sorvino is a CIA officer who has old business with Hurt (they trade some weird sexual insults), while Fraser plays an oddly sweet tempered, sad sack of a villain, whom we meet as “Condor” begins, semi-comically burying prairie dogs far out in the desert.
Anyone remotely familiar with this genre knows that they did not die from “target practice.” I will say no more.
Where: Audience Network, DirecTV and AT&T U-verse
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd