A taut, densely plotted thriller, The Odessa File belongs to the genre of political thrillers that became especially popular in the wake of World War II and the ensuing Cold War. Although screenwriters George Markstein and Kenneth Ross have taken a few liberties with the Frederick Forsyth novel upon which the film is based, they have done their work well. There are a few moments that don't quite work, most crucially the key moment that starts the whole ball rolling (it stretches credulity to believe that a policeman would hand over the important diary to a reporter, no real questions asked); but the plot is so interesting that most will be willing to overlook these few flaws. The film is also slow to get started, and director Ronald Neame's work throughout is competent and professional without being inspired or surprising. Fortunately, Jon Voight's stellar performance provides enough fireworks to make up for Neame's understated approach. Voight's intense, but appealing, characterization is rock solid and provides easy and crucial viewer identification. He picks the audience up and puts it in his pocket early on, and never lets it out. The star gets valuable support from Maximilian Schell's evil-personified villain, the kind of character that, in lesser hands, would come across as laughably one-dimensional, but that Schell makes entirely believable. The interplay between these two powerful actors is marvelous, and provides a powerful climax.
by Craig Butler review