Jon Voight, brilliant, is A—as in Josef A., which rhymes with Josef K.—in the Kafkaesque The Revolutionary, adapted by Hans Koningsberger from his own novel. The film, though shot in London, is populated by Americans; the exact setting is inexact: “somewhere in the free world.” A is a philosophy student, suspended for politics, whose radical activism culminates in a stunning freeze frame that locks him into a limbo of perpetual uncertainty and ambivalence: Will A carry out his backup mission of killing an anti-labor judge? This would be A’s first homicide for the cause.
Paul Williams—this is not the same person as the lyricist—had already directed Voight, who plays an amiable high school jock, in Out of It; now, post-Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969), he gave the tall, hunky actor the part of a bespectacled intellectual with a sense of history, who yearns to educate his fellow radicals as well as share their commitment. It would remain Voight’s best performance.
That would be achievement enough. But Williams conveys a lost and achingly lonely life, amidst poverty and hectic activity—a world pitched between the existential and the satirical. Although Williams has made films since, it says something terrible about the American film industry that an artist capable of such a visionary work as this should have fallen into obscurity. Moreover, Williams made this sober, thoughtful, substantial film at a time when numerous silly, exploitive films about politicized, disaffected people, mostly teens and twentysomethings, were being made.
The passage in which A and an older compatriot hijack a pawnshop, giving back items for free to owners and paying money for new items while allowing the owners to keep their possessions, is tonally remarkable. The radicals’ attempt at giddiness doesn’t come off—pointedly.
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