Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 25. 6 October 1972
This film, it will be generally admitted, possesses most of the standard virtues a tense plot, affording moments of acute apprehension (but never belabouring the view with gross shocks), excellent performances, a direction of camera and use of colour that provide an interesting visual perspective, a couple of censorial excisions and so on. The feature about Klute that raises it to a plane higher than most first-class thrillers, however, is the appreciable intelligence which permeates most of its length. This intelligence is not easily-defined, but appears to me I to be a subtle blend of a script which is both well-written and conceptually fascinating, and the creation j of a mood or atmosphere, peculiar to its own ends, by a judicious counterpoint of music, colour and gesture.
The use, for example, of Jane Fonda's revelations to her psychiatrist (psychoanalyst?) as a connecting link between disparate episodes is a device which could have been a crashing failure. But Fonda is sufficiently eyeI boggling as a person and actress, and her analyst so self-effacing, that the use of these interludes works brilliantly. Klute himself adds his own enigmatic dimension J to the film, as Donald Sutherland, in the other object lesson in acting, portrays a contempt for the 'perversions' j of metropolitan life, yet is no red-necked hick but a man of perception and sensitivity. The two styles clash vividly at the scene on the bridge, when he returns to Fonda his recordings of of her telephone conversations. She taunts him with the observation that perhaps the ways of the big city have ruffled his phlegmatic demenour. His reply, perfectly delivered, is that he finds it all merely 'pathetic'. Her immediate, vehement rejoinder 'Fuck Off'! now adorns the private scrapbook of some sickie in Internal Affairs.
Director Pakula, hitherto known to me only as a producer, is a superior craftsman with a fine eye for detail and effect. There is no sign of faltering or hesitation in the scenes which demand precision of performance, editing, and camera-work, to gain maximum effect. The menace of the villain lurking 'somewhere', implied even when he is not seen, is splendidly conveyed. Only in one episode do the events seem out of place. When Fonda jumps from Klute's car and ploughs through a debauched gathering nearby, the reasons for her so doing are somewhat less than obvious. The presence of Roy Scheider, apparently holding court, compensates to some extent, but the sequence as a whole is off-key as it stands. This was the case in the Australian version, and I could detect no scissors-work on that occasion.
The sundry whores, junkies, and policeman play their bit-parts well, with special mention for the murderer who gives a convincing, sweaty explanation of his motives in the film's last harrowing scenes. His unconcerned play-back of a tape recording of his latest victim's demise reduces both Fonda and the audience to similar states, and is a chilling prelude to his final assault. The miniature recorder, like Fonda's analyst, is another recurring motif which works well throughout the film. Klute will probably be remembered as the thriller of recent years containing the least amount of violence. It is also one of the best thrillers of recent years - the paucity of violence only emphasises its considerable achievements.
— Rex Benson