Warren Beatty Searches for the Truth in ‘The Parallax View’

The Parallax View movie poster

par·al·lax

–noun

  1. The apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer.
  2. Astronomy. The apparent angular displacement of a celestial body due to its being observed from the surface instead of from the center of the earth (diurnal parallax or geocentric parallax) or due to its being observed from the earth instead of from the sun (annual parallax or heliocentric parallax). Compare parallactic ellipse.
  3. The difference between the view of an object as seen through the picture-taking lens of a camera and the view as seen through a separate viewfinder.
  4. An apparent change in the position of cross hairs as viewed through a telescope, when the focusing is imperfect.

American Psychological Association (APA):

parallax. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved March 04, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/parallax

I always wondered what the word parallax meant, let alone in relation to this movie. This would have come in handy during those damn SAT’s I took so many years ago. It would have brought my scores up a bit. As for what my scores were…Well, you can just figure it out on your own.

The Parallax View” is a thriller from 1974 directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Warren Beatty. I saw it as a double feature with another Pakula thriller, “Klute.” I even remember my mom asking me to record this particular movie on the family VCR back in the 1980’s. I did succeed in getting the whole movie on tape as opposed to all those car races my dad and my brother asked me to record for them from time to time. Anyway, it’s a good thing I didn’t see this movie right away when I recorded it for my mom. They probably edited it down and cut all the good parts out.

The movie starts with an assassination of an assassination of a U.S. Senator on the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. The movie then jumps ahead three years later to see the far-reaching circumstances this assassination has on those closely involved in it. Warren Beatty plays Joseph Frady, a reporter eager to get at the truth surrounding the assassination, and to find out why so many who were in the vicinity of the assassination have been dying. Many have been reported as dying from an embolism of some kind, but there are too many coincidences between all those dead which makes it impossible to believe they simply just died. Beatty’s character may not be able to prove it, but they were murdered. But by whom?

The movie opens with Frady getting a visit from a female friend who is convinced she will be murdered. She comes up with newspaper clippings of others present at the senator’s murder and how they died. But Frady dismisses her concerns as mere superstition, and that she cannot possibly be in danger. A couple of minutes later, we see her in the morgue, dead from an apparent overdose. This gets Frady up and running to finding out the truth as to why these people are being killed off. This drives his boss Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn) to a lot of anxiety and irritation as he cannot get himself to believe all that is going on. Meanwhile, Frady risks life and limb literally to discover the truth behind everything. But like everything else, the truth will have a big cost.

Turns out all roads lead to The Parallax Corporation, a business which hires highly anti-social people and trains them to be assassins, and their targets usually tend to be politicians and government figures that stand in the way of making policy or a good profit. The movie escalates the tension to a high level as Beatty’s character puts himself in the most dangerous of positions. One of the most tension filled scenes comes when he realizes one of the Parallax assassins has put a bomb on board a plane with yet another politician, and Beatty boards the plane in an effort to find a way to get everyone off the plane before it detonates.

What I have come to discover about the late Alan J. Pakula is how he brought a lot of intelligence and reality to the movies he made, and there was never anything overly exaggerated in his direction. This seemed to ground the majority of his films in a world so real to where they come across as highly subversive. There is no hyper kinetic editing here, nor is there an overpowering score or adrenaline inducing sound effects. There is only the state of the world and of what’s really happening around us instead of what we are led to believe.

This movie is now over thirty years old, and yet its themes are not out of place in today’s society. The scenario of one man against the system, or of a person getting to the truth regardless of the consequences has been done over and over again. We have had “Michael Clayton” which starred George Clooney as a fixer at a law firm who suddenly develops a crisis of conscience that forces him to go against all the corruption which has engulfed the later part of his life. It’s thrillers like “The Parallax View” which gave movies like “Michael Clayton” a reason for being.

Beatty is perfectly cast here as this downtrodden reporter who is eager to not be as selfish as he has been for most of his life. The movie does not ride on his good looks to sell itself, but on the intelligence of Beatty’s performance as well of those around him. If you can’t believe Beatty in this role, then the movie is not going to work. I’m not sure of how many people today can recognize what a great actor Beatty can be if you give him the right material.

These days, we know that our government and the corporations are up to something which goes completely against what we were originally taught to believe in. What’s scary is when “The Parallax View” was first released, nothing much was different. It just keeps going on and on, and it’s almost like we are in denial about it. The question is, can we get at the truth of the matter and prove it to everyone who bothers to listen? Furthermore, can we do it in a way which doesn’t suck us into a trap that makes us look like a bad person to the rest of the world? This movie seems to say this is not really possible, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, and we can’t simply give up.

“The Parallax View” is an excellent thriller which is definitely worth a watch. Coming out of one of the truly golden ages of cinema, the 1970’s, it is an underrated work which didn’t get the same-sized audience of Pakula’s other movies like “All the President’s Men.” If you like his work as a director, you should check this out.

Just remember, the truth is out there…

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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