Charley (Walter Matthau) is “the last of the independents”. He’s a crop dusting pilot who supplements his income by pulling bank robberies in small towns, under the radar, as it were. Alas, his latest heist goes awry: bullets are exchanged; his wife is shot; and the take is much too big… Charley speculates correctly that the bank was being used in a money laundering operation, and that the mob will want its money back. What to do…?
Fresh from the box office hit Dirty Harry, director Don Siegel clearly enjoyed himself with this engaging and ingenious crime thriller. Siegel had initially wanted his friend Clint Eastwood for the lead, but… he went a different way. And the lugubrious Walter Matthau – more familiar from trading quips with Jack Lemmon – proves a surprisingly adept – if unusual – action hero. If you’re a fan of Hell or High Water or No Country for Old Men then this is for you. (Incidentally, Quentin Tarantino “borrowed” a line of dialogue about torture for Pulp Fiction.)
To note: Like many films from this era, Charley Varrick sometimes mirrors the racist and sexist attitudes of its time.
A low-key, tough little thriller punctuated by casual bursts of brutality and deadpan humor, Charley Varrick is informed by a quiet professionalism that suits a movie about feds and criminals doing their jobs, whether that means laundering money, making fake passports, or robbing banks.
Nathan Rabin, AV Club
Howard Rodman, Dean Riesner