The Parallax View

The Parallax View Movie Review

Since seeing Adam Cosco's The Most Basic Form of Mind Control is Repetition video I have been interested in seeing several of the films featured in that short video. The Parallax View was one of them and this forgotten gem is a hell of a conspiracy thriller. Suspense fans and general cinemaphiles will enjoy the conscious choice of cinematography and windy, twisting plot.

Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) one of many witnesses to the assassination of a candidate. The assassin is chased to the top of the Seattle Space Needle and falls to his death. A second assassin escape unnoticed. A special committee unveils the results of their investigation that the assassin acted alone. Carter explains to newspaper reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) that six witnesses of that assassination have died and she was next. Joe dismisses her.

Lee is found dead two weeks later due to either purposeful or accidental drug overdose, but Joe does not believe it. He begins to investigate some of the clues Carter provided, leading to a small town where he is unwelcome by the local authorities. He discovers that The Parallax Corporation hires political assassin and chooses to apply. Joe is welcomed into The Parallax Corporation and is given a ten-minute long montage sequence juxtaposing negative and positive images. Afterwards Joe begins to follow the second assassin from the opening scene. Joe begins to slowly unveil a larger conspiracy that he could have ever imagined.

The Parallax View has certainly left the public's conscious as this film continues to have relevance to current, 21st century news topics. The idea of a private corporation with heavy political motives attempting to control and filter political outcomes. The amount of conspiracy theories with private defense and security contractors have added up in America, particularly during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The Parallax Corporation attracts loners with low self-esteem who have built-up angst against authority. It is often these same attributes that are mentioned in the most horrific massacres in American history these days. The Parallax Corporation is feeding on the loners who have been cast out of society, and because so, their loyalty is skewed. These same attributes are often looked for by foreign terrorist organizations to recruit new insurgents to be bred to be fearless killers.

Pakula taps Alfred Hitchcock as an influence throughout the entirety of this film. The opening scene even features the assassin being chased onto the top of the Space Needle without sound. Hitchcock used this idea of having a chase end on top of an American landmark, and in the case of Vertigo, the perpetrator falls to their death. Hitchcock used this scene several times beyond Vertigo such as in the end of Saboteur and North by Northwest. Two films also about an innocent many on the run and surrounded by a conspiracy.

The overall plot is straightforward, never giving the audience nor the protagonist a real puzzle to ponder. The many plot twists do indeed keep the film at a steady pace, enough to where we lose any sort of backstory on Frady's character. This backstory could have been more essential in explaining the heroism of his character, and elevate the overall implications of his demise.

The cinematography and the overall shot choice of favoring long shots supports the prying, spying and overall conspiracy theme. Scenes such as the brawl in the dam and the boat blowing up all are long shot to expose the whole. As if the camera is as much of an informer as the members of the Parallax Corporation. Gordon Willis' cinematography matches his genius objective approach found in The Godfather Parts I & II. The noir-esque ending leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, thanks to the uncredited screenwriting of Robert Towne (Chinatown) who has a knack for leaving us with the protagonist in a losing position 1.

Pakula has certainly assembled a well-rounded and talented list of crew members and actors. Beatty's performance was excellent, but his character was not a particular vehicle for him to go above and beyond. The cinematography, writing, and directing are all in sync to create a successful conspiracy thriller forgotten by time.



About the Author

Aaron Weiss founded CinemaFunk in September 2009. He recieved his Master's in Cinema Studies from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He currently works as a web developer in the Tampa Bay Area. 



Anonymous's picture

Beatty just annoys me soo much sometimes, that it was actually hard for me to enjoy this movie.

Aaron Weiss's picture


Really? I enjoyed this film a lot. I find it to have many similarities to Chinatown. And when I mean many, I mean MANY. According to Wikipedia, Robert Towne was an uncredited scriptwriter.

I think Beatty was alright. I've only seen him in a handful of films anyway.

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