I have to declare that Marathon Man starts off rather slowly, and for the first thirty minutes at least, it feels as if you're watching a human drama rather than a spy thriller. However, unlike a lot of so called thrillers, Marathon Man uses this time to create and develop the characters and establish the chilling mood, which ultimately pays off later on in the film once the movie really gets up a head of steam.
The story develops around a car crash that takes place in downtown New York. One of the men in this crash is the brother of the infamous Nazi war criminal, Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier). This crash triggers off a series of events involving a graduate history student, Thomas Babe Levy ( Dustin Hoffman ) who is unwittingly caught in the middle of an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds, also an exiled Nazi war criminal, and a rogue government agent.
Consequently, from then on, many members of a US defence organisation, known as The Division, begin turning up dead.
Doc (Roy Scheider) plays the role of Babe's (Dustin Hoffman), mysterious businessman brother, getting the rare chance to play a character, which combine both hero and villain. Doc is an intriguing guy because he chooses to work out his problems in a very different way than Babe's character does. He turns out to be a very jaded person, a spy and a cold-blooded killer. John Schlesinger, the films director, does a fantastic job of keeping the audience on the edge of their seat for the duration of the movie. A constant foreboding feel is created, and you're never truly sure of what will happen. This is exactly what you want in a thriller, as nobody likes it when they can predict what will happen next.
Babe is subjected to all sorts of harassing scenes, most notably an excruciating dental torture sequence. This scene is powerful and painful on it's own, but it is made more so by the fact that we have already become acquainted with the character and therefore we feel compassion and protection for him. That scene alone is enough to drive the movie in the realms of prominence, as it is simply one of the most powerful that cinema has ever given us, but this movie is a great more than just a torture sequence. The film ends with a spectacular sequence, which sees the movie and the two centrals characters come to a satisfying conclusion. The characters are the central theme in this movie, and had the movie ended differently it could have unravelled everything that it had created, but the movie's end is absolutely perfect and does the entire movie justice. This is a dazzling piece of cinema prominence and a thriller to compete with all thrillers.