Movie #100 2021: The Parallax View (1974)

It occurred to me that recently I’ve been reviewing a lot of new films and relatively few ‘old’ ones. What with the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Oscars, I’ve tried my hardest to squeeze the majority of nominees into my watching schedule and everything else has fallen by the wayside. But not anymore!

The 1970s is my favourite decade. Perhaps it’s not my favourite decade for civil rights or politics (sadly the seventies concluded with the uprising of a certain Margaret Thatcher…), but the movies, the hair, the fashion and good lord the music come together to form the best decade for all things that don’t actually matter all that much. What I mean is, you’ll understand why the mid-70s is the time in which I travelled back to.

The Parallax View stars a young, floppy-haired Warren Beatty at the top of his game. Beatty plays an ambitious and brave reporter from Seattle who witnesses the assassination of a senator and upcoming presidential candidate. Before long, Beatty’s Lee Carter comes to realise that other witnesses of the shooting are beginning to mysteriously die, and after some digging, he uncovers a secret, multi-million dollar corporation that was formed to recruit potential future political assassins.

Here’s the real question: Is Alan J. Pakula becoming one of my favourite directors of years gone by? I’d say so. You may recall that I completely fell in love with All the President’s Men, and whilst this isn’t quite on the same level, it’s a welcome addition to Pakula’s so-called “Paranoia Trilogy”. (Described and explained brilliantly here by film writer Nick Yarborough.)

Wow, what a time capsule. I wanted the seventies and that’s exactly what I got. As a fanatic of the decade, this was such a pleasure visually. So was Warren Beatty’s hair. Brilliant set decoration from Reg Allen and outstanding cinematography by the inimitable Gordon Willis, and Pakula on top of that? This movie is the definition of “team effort”. (It’s a shame that none of these visuals experts were women but again, this is 1974.)

The Parallax View is not as well remembered as All the President’s Men, and I include myself in that generalisation, but the feelings of apparent paranoia and conspiracy running through it are just as strong. The screenplay here is simply an example of intriguing, gripping storytelling at its best. Not only that but the action on screen is actually entertaining for the most part, even when the dialogue is a little less than realistic. It all culminates in possibly one of the best political thrillers I’ve ever seen, and that montage of propaganda and subliminal messaging? Fucking. Genius. I didn’t even know of that sequence’s existence before, and it deserves a lot more credit for being so ahead of its time.

Many hail Beatty’s performance here as his best ever. Strangely, I’ve not seen a single one of his other films so I can’t attest to that, but I agree that he gives one hell of a performance in this movie. Appearing in almost every frame, he turns a character who could have been perfectly one-note and uninteresting into a dynamic, charismatic hero who you can’t help but root for. 

No, it’s not the most consistently exciting piece of filmmaking. However, the storytelling and an outstanding lead performance make it an enjoyable, noteworthy, often unpredictable experience wrapped in a 1970s facade.

The Parallax View is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

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