6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A poem of paranoia,
This review is from: Parallax View, The  [DVD] (DVD)
Against tremendous odds, it works superbly; and, after forty years, Alan Pakula's paranoid thriller still seems highly relevant and utterly, horribly disturbing. This is a film that takes huge risks with audience tolerance, and it's not at all surprising that some people, perfectly intelligent and sensitive people, hate it, or are baffled by it. It makes nothing easy for the spectator, and quite how it is that it works so well remains something of a mystery. It posits a familiar premise - lone crusading reporter begins to sniff out an enormous story, but must go it alone against mighty and mysterious evil forces - and then turns it inside-out. We are startled when the journo-hero (Warren Beatty) quickly proves himself to be a shabby loser, manifestly incapable of landing a big story, let alone "the scoop of the century", but that's not all - by the time he pretends to be a borderline psychopath so as to be recruited by a mysterious Murder Inc.-style organization which specialises in political killings, we wonder if he doesn't genuinely have a screw loose somewhere. Pakula never makes anything clear, and Beatty never once allows charm or charisma to inform his performance. He finds out only enough to tantalise us - by the film's shocking end, we still don't know who the killers are, or what their agenda is. Their victims include a flagrant redneck as well as as a Kennedy liberal type, and they seem to have tentacles in every corner of American life. They are unstoppable. Never explaining is an immensely dangerous strategy, and Pakula takes this to extremes, not even offering us the superficial explanations you'd get in a TV episode to justify the forward momentum of his plotline. He hires famous actors (Paula Prentiss, Kenneth Mars, William Daniels, Anthony Zerbe) to appear in what promise to be crucial roles (respectively, hero's girlfriend, best buddy, the Man Who Knows What's Really Going On and a wise, knowing professor) and cuts them off after just a few minutes of screentime; crucial dialogue tends to be muttered rather than emphasised; and suspense sequences don't follow the anticipated format - when a man falls off the top of Seattle's Space Needle, we don't get the expected cutaway shot of a body falling, falling, falling (or any screams on the soundtrack) and during a bomb-on-a-plane sequence, we get no histrionics, just an agonising use of real time. This could be very irritating in the hands of a less skilled director - indeed, the film actually is very irritating, deliberately so, at several points, and only by the end of the film do its various directorial ploys all come together. Then, it's just terrifying. A few subsequent movies ("Arlington Road" is an obvious example) have tried to imitate it, and have failed miserably. You have to be Alan Pakula to make an Alan Pakula movie; like Peckinpah or Antonioni, he really can't be copied. This just might be his best film, although it makes huge demands and intentionally gives us no final emotional pay-off. Pakula's next film was "All The President's Men"; he said that, if "Parallax" expressed all his fears about America, "President's Men" expressed his hopes. It's a relief that he still had some.