Small-time, ambitious and pretty lost journalist Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) stumbles onto a murderous conspiracy when his ex-girlfriend (Paula Prentiss) tells him she thinks somebody is out to kill her. According to her, witnesses to the assassination of a liberal politician three years ago are dying in astonishing numbers, supposedly accidentally. Since she is one of these witnesses, she fears for her life. Joe doesn’t believe her but one cut later, she’s lying dead in a mortuary, supposedly killed by an overdose of barbiturates.
While this kind of suicide would fit her character to a degree, Joe doesn’t
believe the official story at all, so he begins digging around and is soon on
the trail of the Parallax Company who seem to be in the business of political
assassination by supposed single gunmen.
This is generally the least appreciated film in Alan J. Pakula’s thematically
linked Paranoia trilogy, and it’s not difficult to see why: it doesn’t have a
central performance as strong as Jane Fonda’s in Klute nor does its
plot rip a trauma quite as directly from the headlines as All President’s
Men, a film that also beats it, Woodward and Bernstein be thanks, by
featuring a happy end. This one’s more the film that turns the personal
disintegrations of the former film and the political turmoil of the latter into
a stark – if not lacking in irony – nightmare tale about the USA as a land built
on lies that will crush anyone not on board with that particular program.
Probably not the sort of thing even a 70s audience was asking for when going
into a nominal thriller.
And a nominal thriller this is, given how inevitable everything in
the film seems to be, Warren Beatty’s Joseph Frady the only one involved who
doesn’t see the ending coming. Pakula’s approach to action and suspense here is
abstract, cold and clinical, with a dollop of the plain weird coming into play
when he basically stops and smells the talking roses of sort of experimental
film to present a brainwashing video Beatty and the audience have to suffer
through. All of which is bad for your run of the mill thriller but a perfect fit
as well as a logical approach for The Parallax View, a film that feels
practically cosmicist in its approach to political assassination and the society
that breeds it.