3 things struck me when watching this movie:
#1 Goddamn, Walter Matthau looks old in 1980? How old is the “old goat”? He was born in 1920!?!
#2 Sam Waterston is young!
#3 Sassoon’s 5 point cut!
From Watergate to Seymour Hersh’s article in 1974 to the Church Committee in 1975 and onwards, the CIA was having a rough time for most of the 70’s before this movie came out. There’s a lot of subtext and social context behind the scenes on this one. American audiences would have loved the bad guy to be an old Nixon crony, they’d love to see someone at the CIA have enough with all the “dirty tricks” (thank you Donald Segretti), they’d like to see him constantly foiling the CIA at every turn and then have the last laugh by publishing a tell-all revealing all of the intelligence communities’ secrets.
This is tentatively the first movie I’ve seen actively putting the intelligence communities themselves in the antagonist role. Yes, there are movies about traitors, double-agents, etc. working within an intelligence organization to do bad things but Ned Beatty is technically a very conservative, patriotic, Republican career government employee trying to stop a potentially highly embarrassing leak. Previously, the moral authority would have been on his side but things have changed and now they are on the side of someone directly mailing US and Russian secrets to all sorts of powerful friendly and enemy countries. I thought the particularly ironic part was the British intelligence man having a good laugh at the Americans about how that wouldn’t happen in the UK (until Peter Wright 7 years later).
It’s a really great movie, Matthau is great the whole way through. It’s a lot of fun and while a very entertaining spy movie, it’s also reasonably important when considering how the public views “spies” in parallel consideration of the time-line of world events.