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1 review, 6 user ratings

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Parallax View, The
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by MP Bartley

"It was the 1970s. Nobody was trustworthy!"
4 stars

The title of the film refers to a situation whereby an object is obscured or camouflaged by another object of the same shape. We see an example of this right at the beginning of the film, and we got a more bitterly ironic example at the end.

Joe Frady (Warren Beatty, battering down his usual glib charm for a tougher, darker performance) is a reporter with a taste for alcohol and an ever greater taste for reporting that borders on the fantastical. 3 years previously he was reporting on the Seattle space needle when he, along with a group of fellow reporters, was witness to the assassination of a political candidate. Now the past is starting to catch up with him as he realises that every other witness to the murder is being killed off in a calculated and secretive fashion. Fleeing for his life, he finds clues that leads him to the possible brains behind the assassination and the attempt on his life - the Parallax Corporation.

The Parallax View belongs to the same group of 1970s and 1960s films that had a paranoid obsession with the government or big business being out to control the country through surreptious means. The Manchurian Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, Seconds and Pakula's own All The President's Men also fall into this clutch of disillusioned and nervy sub-genre. And like the more factual All The President's Men, Pakula here favours slow intrigue over tough action man heroics. Apart from a bar brawl and an escapade on a plane that 24 would resurrect 30 years later, this is more of a simmering thriller, concerned with worrying your brain rather than stimulating your eyes. Pakula drip feeds the information to us directly through Frady, cleverly ensuring that we never know more than he does so that we're as much in the dark about the Parallax Corporation, and the situation at large, as he is.

If this results in an occasionally languid pace, Pakula does have the eye for an engaging episode to jolt us when required. A fight in a newly burst dam has the feel of Hitchcock, while the sight of a corpse atop a motorised buggy, crashing its way through swathes of concert hall tables arranged in a red, white and blue pattern is a striking image with more than a little subtext to it. Beatty gives an excellent performance as someone desperately trying to keep one step ahead of his mysterious enemies, whilst trying to figure out just what the hell is going on around him. The highlight of the film however is the justly celebrated Parallax sequence, whereby Frady undergoes a test that the Parallax Corporation have constructed for its employees. A free forming, surreal montage of images and slogans, it's presented directly to us, never cutting away to Beatty's reaction, ensuring that we're as hypnotically snared by it as Frady is. Edited to ruthless precision, it's the moment that sends you spinning away in a daze.

Pakula keeps the various elements and Frady's investigating percolating away, along with Gordon Willis' excellent cinematogrophy and Michael Small's doomy score, until he's ready to close the net in with a typically downbeat and paranoid ending. Like The Manchurian Candidate it revolves around a political assassination, but ends on a darker note. The 1960s and 1970s had a particular tendency to go for films that didn't end as we'd expect them to, and The Parallax View has one of the meanest of them all.

Although it has been neglected over the years, The Parallax View is a fine, engrossing thriller that still resonates today. It packs a punch simply because it is not in the business of giving answers - we never find out just who and what the corporation is, and neither are we given a villain for Frady to come up against. The enemies here are too faceless and too vast to boil down to one person. What is most frightening however, are the final words of the film - as hauntingly relevant today as they were then. After all, what's the good of investigating a conspiracy if EVERYONE is in on it?

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originally posted: 05/03/07 01:45:09
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User Comments

3/10/18 Anne very relevant today with politics deliberately more chaotic, frightening, and bewildering 4 stars
8/31/14 Jeff WIlder Derivative of The Manchurian Candidate. But great acting and direction. 4 stars
4/30/11 mr.mike Classic paranoia 5 stars
12/02/08 brian Not without interest, but what the heck happened?! 3 stars
10/24/05 R.W.Welch Fun conspiracy thriller. Good tension. 4 stars
10/23/05 Jack Sommersby The script is half-baked but the direction and Beatty's perf are first-rate. 4 stars
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  14-Jun-1974 (R)
  DVD: 22-Jun-1999


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