Sidney Lumet’s part caper, part social commentary can be viewed as a snapshot of an America in turmoil undergoing social, political and cultural change.
This is one of those rare things which tends to slip between the cracks of any actor’s career, even one as illustrious as Sean Connery. Done in between one of his many breaks from Bond, The Anderson Tapes is part caper, part social commentary and time capsule for early seventies cinema. Falling somewhere after the era-defining Easy Rider and before American new wave films including The Conversation, The Sugerland Express and American Graffiti, The Anderson Tapes is best viewed as a stylishly slick, economical heist movie with seventies attitude and Watergate overtones.
Sidney Lumet, who died in 2011 and contributed indelibly to cinema through films including 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Network amongst others, makes short sharp political points around the rise of communism, distrust within America as a whole, whilst giving us a formulaic thriller to gloss over the heavier elements. Released a few years before the Watergate debacle, The Anderson Tapes feels prescient for the time as so much of Lumet’s work tends to.
His use of surveillance to both tell the story, confuse narrative and mismatch structure lifts The Anderson Tapes above the crowd. Incorporating different sounds in the mix and various film stocks depending upon point of view, the film feels decidedly conspiratorial. As the audience we feel drawn in either listening as government spooks or interacting with Connery’s gang, whilst Lumet also works in small references to activist groups subtly superimposing his own agenda.
In many ways The Anderson Tapes can be viewed as a snapshot of an America in turmoil undergoing a social, political and cultural change. As with Network, Dog Day Afternoon and The Pawnbroker, Lumet lays out his stall thinly disguised as entertainment. Headlining it with a marquee star forever linked to one particular franchise, Connery was an inspired choice as audiences come for him and stay for the more contentious content. Lumet’s choice of a young Christopher Walken pre Annie Hall and Deer Hunter counterpoints Connery’s easy film star charm which carries the movie, allowing Walken’s own naturalism to flourish on screen. Playing a tag along within the gang both inside and out, there are minor hints of why Walken got cast in Cimino’s Deer Hunter, as the cocky innocence so prevalent here would act as the emotional pivot of that upon release.
For me The Anderson Tapes is worth investing in for the Connery charisma minus any Bond expectations, where he carries a movie with character beats, acting chops and the finesse to match. Quincy Jones’ score, which is at once funky and functional, ties the film together whilst feeding into its more serious elements. This is an underrated Lumet movie with much to say, delivered in a sedate slow burn fashion which will keep giving long after those credits roll.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Frank Pierson
Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Alan King
Top 10 Films reviewed The Anderson Tapes courtesy of Powerhouse Films’ Indicator Blu-ray. The film was released on Limited Edition Blu-ray Feb 27 in the UK