7 May 2003 | secragt
PARALLAX VIEW is an impressive political thriller with an unusually specific and scary viewpoint. It posits that many conspiracies work because relatively few people are in on the whole joke; some are involved in the set up, some in the telling, and some in the punchline, but only a precious few are given the whole picture, making detection almost impossible. The argument is compellingly made.
It is the perfectly machine-tooled "punchline" role the Powers That Be assign to an unwitting Warren Beatty that makes PARALLAX VIEW such a frightening movie. There seems to be a thread running through many of the bigger conspiracy movies (see ARLINGTON ROAD, ROLLERBALL, NETWORK, THE INSIDER, etc.) that suggests unless the individual can find an inroad to make themselves useful to the system, the system finds a role for individual (often not to his liking). In the case of NETWORK, individual Howard Beal is initially spared by one geopolitical phase of the corporate system and allowed continue to rant on TV once he is properly slotted by Ned Beatty, but he is ultimately murdered when the corporate television arm of the system no longer has a use for his declining ratings. He becomes a punchline.
In THE INSIDER, Russell Crowe is initially hung out to dry by the system until Al Pacino is able to find a way to manipulate the television arm of the system to find a value for Crowe. Crowe becomes the instrument of the telling.
In ROLLERBALL, James Caan is beloved by part of the system as the greatest celebrity sports figure of his time, but ultimately sabotaged by another part of the corporate world which is trying to espouse the notion in the game that the individual can never beat the system, something Caan has been indirectly doing by being too successful in the game. Caan successfully defeats the setup, telling and punchline (though he's probably not long for this world.)
In the case of Warren Beatty in the PARALLAX VIEW, he is elected to take the fall for a political assassination which will simultaneously discredit his own conspiracy investigations. The task is accomplished with such cold blooded efficiency and clever precision, one has to seriously doubt whether our own Federal government could do it. But then, is that perceived incompetence of our officials just another con being perpetrated on us by "Them"? Beatty's mistake is that he underestimates "the set-up" and becomes the posterchild of the system's "punchline."
It is in this battle between individual and system that THE PARALLAX VIEW really distinguishes itself. What initially appears to be the ambiguous paranoia of a decidedly neurotic woman is gradually allowed to organically grow such that we can begin to see tips of the iceberg along the way, but don't want to believe what we're seeing even when the truth is apparent. That iceberg subtly floats by in different forms every time Beatty investigates further or reexamines his own position, yet remains nearly invisible possibly because it is so big it cannot be seen or contemplated?
Certainly there are aspects which lurch toward absurdity. For instance, the non-fallout from the cartoonish bomb explosion of Beatty's plane (containing an important political official no less) certainly should have aroused greater attention and suspicion. A car chase about 2/3rds of the way through feels particularly tacked-on. However, the overall focus of this movie, which is the slow peeling back of the layers to get to the irresistible mystery, is highly effective. People can judge for themselves whether any of the dirty tricks this movie documents really go on, but that's really not the point.
This is a story full of intriguing moves and clever counter-moves. Scams and ploys and scams inside of ploys. Most of these details are fascinating and we feel like Pakula is letting us in on some of the dirty little subversive things we've always feared may occur behind the doors of the seat of government. But ultimately, this is a story about a man who looks too long at the sun and is so intrigued yet blinded by what he sees, he ignores the nature of the sun, which is to both illuminate and to burn. Whether any of the conspiracy suggested is true, it remains one of the most compelling efforts of the seventies, and is a must-see. See it and judge for yourself.