Duke Anderson (Sean Connery) has been incarcerated in prison these past ten years, but now has finally served his time and is about to be released. At the group therapy sessions he has had to attend, he explains his philosophy, which is basically everyone is out to exploit everyone else, and makes no great secret of how happy he is to leave jail behind and get on with his interrupted existence. But he is not about to get a nine to five job and go straight, no, he wants to manage another heist: it's what he is good at, and a successful operation could set him up for life if the New York Mafia agree to assist him with everything he needs, including a capable team...
Although the appearance of the technology in The Anderson Tapes may look way out of date in the twenty-first century, there's no denying they were on to something when they illustrated a world of surveillance was where the world was headed, and here we are, with cameras on almost every corner and the internet and phone usage tracking our movements from day to day, making it very difficult to disappear should you wish to and continue using the tech just about everyone does as a matter of course across the globe. The irony here was that the titular Anderson was not the focus of the surveillance, it's simply there was so much of it that he couldn't help being caught in it.
It's all those team members who are being spied on, by various sections of the authorities (F.B.I., Inland Revenue, etc) who are seeking to build a case against such characters as Martin Balsam's camp antiques dealer Haskins, or mechanic the Kid, played by a very boyish Christopher Walken in his film debut. The question of why these agencies don't swoop once their suspicions of wrongdoing are confirmed is easy to answer: the agencies themselves are acting illegally by spying on private citizens, and if they are found out they will be prosecuted themselves, so it's a complicated matter of waiting until they can gather enough evidence that does not rely on the tapes and cameras.
This was a film enamoured of the potential to follow someone throughout their waking hours, but also the mechanisms of doing so, therefore director Sidney Lumet, helming a Frank Pierson screenplay from a popular Lawrence Sanders book, will alight upon any example of technology he can, showing off to the audience just where this was all going. Most prescient for the following year would be the apparent prediction of the gadgets used in the Watergate scandal, another, factual, operation conducted by the U.S. Government against their Democrat rivals in 1972; it was probably coincidence the plot details were identical in many respects, though the Democrats were not the ones breaking the law, but it is clear there was something in the air as the hope and turmoil of the sixties gave way to paranoia in the seventies.
All very well, but all the fancy machines and gizmos in the world are no substitute for a good story, and while there was not that much to distinguish this one aside from the location of the heist, it was solid enough to prove compelling. A sense of humour helped; Balsam, for instance, could have been playing a swishy stereotype, yet he was too effective an actor for that and no matter how many laughs the character was essayed for, we never lost sight of the personality beneath the surface, something that could be said of more or less every performer here. Dyan Cannon as Duke's girlfriend had the least to do of the main characters, she never left her apartment in effect, but the others had more to get their teeth into, including a neat turn by comedian Alan King in one of the serious roles that he was so accomplished at. Connery, patently trying to break the bonds of, er, Bond, appeared sans hairpiece and justified Lumet's faith in his acting talent as a charismatic centre of the action, though oddly the director never rated this one otherwise. It wasn't his best film, but its cult status feels exactly right. Groovy, beepy music by Quincy Jones.
Esteemed American director who after a background in theatre moved into television from where he went on to be the five times Oscar nominated filmmaker behind some of the most intelligent films ever to come out of America. His 1957 debut for the big screen, 12 Angry Men, is still a landmark, and he proceeded to electrify and engross cinema audiences with The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, Cold War drama Fail-Safe, The Hill, The Group, The Deadly Affair, The Offence, definitive cop corruption drama Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon (another great Al Pacino role), Network, Equus, Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running On Empty and his final film, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Often working in the UK, he also brought his adopted home town of New York to films, an indelible part of its movies for the best part of fifty years.