This is a film about games: the defining image, a game of chess; and then, as well, the intellectual game that robbery provides for Crown (McQueen), and the two games, professional and sexual, in which Vicki and Crown stalk each other. For these players, games are very serious and the outcome of each uncertain.
The film is of its time, but works in ours, as well and better than the recent remake. Those looking for a fast action "heist" movie will be disappointed: this film is about alienation and attraction, trust and betrayal, about working out what matters - all those eternal themes. It will appeal to those content to focus on personal chemistry unpunctuated by regular gunfire. None the less, the planning and execution of the bank robbery is cleverly done and provides sufficient impetus to drive the rest of the straightforward plot. Crown's motivations, tedium and greed, are readily understandable; Vicki's are similar. As people they are similar and evenly matched. Vicki is stylish and beautiful and, using her sexuality as well as her intellect, she is Crown's equal or better - which is not true of the remake. In the end, it is she who defines the outcome, but what it will be and why Vicki makes the choice she does are left unresolved. So, too, we remain uncertain whether the possibility truly exists, that their alienation might be healed.
The focus is clearly on the couple. Eddy Malone's role as the police detective does not extend beyond that of a Greek chorus, providing the conventional and moral reference against which the actions of the principals are to be judged. Jack Weston's Erwin, a very worried getaway driver, simply contrasts the player of the game, Crown, with the instruments with which he plays it.
The performances of the entire cast are exemplary. McQueen's clipped manner builds the tension and intensifies the effect of his weakening to Vicki's seductive moves during the chess game. The role of Vicki is perfect for Dunaway, making no great demands on her to project herself, no extended dialogue, which she does not generally manage well; but the disposition of her body, her power of gesture, and her brief, pithy statements all work brilliantly. Jack Weston produces an excellent cameo performance that pretty well had me perspiring as much as he was. Malone plays a straight role straight, the way it should be.
The split screen title sequence and passages in the film work well; they do not distract, as this technique can, but are used to capture and compress moments of action that are significant but do not require extended treatment. The Legrand soundtrack is brilliantly effective, including the long passages of real tension, without music.
This really is a great classic, a film that will endure, and those who have difficulty with it should see it again and allow themselves the time to be seduced by its low key perfection.