TCM summarizes Klute in one sentence, "A small town detective Klute searches for a missing man with a high-priced prostitute." That is the simple overview of Klute, but the characters are anything but simple, and the writing, the costuming, the sound design, acting, shot composition, create a film that even by today's standard could grip an audience. It is the combination of all these things, that I think lead to the first oscar win for star Jane Fonda.
The story itself is simple, small town detective, John Klute is hired to find missing husband and businessman Tom. Klute seeks the help of Bree, a prostitute that Tom had hired two years ago, and sent her a serious of disturbing letters over the next year before he finally left his safe life in San Francisco, but just as characters are never one dimensional, no story is that simple.
SPOILER ALERT, Tom is not missing, he has been killed, and then framed by the killer as a domineering, woman beating, sex crazed repressed man. Bree, who is a struggling actress, who does not "turn tricks" for money, but for the love of control over a situation, and the joy of "playing the part." Bree, seeks medical help and reveals her fears and inabilities to love, when she speaks with her psychiatrist. Klute is a good man, he is tempted by Bree, but unlike her "johns" he falls in love with her, and tries only to protect her. He even over looks her self destructive behavior. Putting her safety over his own hurt. All of this is told with brilliance by Director Alan J. Pakula.
Pakula creates a world, that is not stuck in the 70's but what I think middle America still perceives as the darker side of New York. He creates Bree, not a prostitute with the heart of gold, but a broken woman who learns to love a small town boy. Pakula uses the framing of each shot, to show Bree trapped by her lifestyle, her choices, her self destructive behavior. He uses lighting to keep the audience "in the dark" about Bree and her life. Pakula uses "taped conversations" of Bree to show her darker side and reveal who the real killer is.
Pakula seamlessly cuts between the "voyeur" and Bree's real life, slowly bringing the audience in as he creates a bond between Bree and Klute. Pakula masterfully creates a world that the audience believes that for a week they live happily ever after, but after that, they have as much chance as any American couple in the 70's with the battle of gender roles, sexual revolution and distrust of the establishment. I think Klute would be a film that would stand the test of time and worth a remake. . .