The first shot and we know where we are. We’ve been here before. It’s Seattle. The occasion is a Fourth of July parade honoring Senator Charles Carol. Any viewer paying attention knows something fishy is afoot and in perhaps the most intense moment of the whole film the man is violently assassinated. A committee deliberates and comes to the conclusion that the perpetrator was acting alone. And so begins The Parallax View.
Second rate journalist Joseph Frady is known for getting into trouble or causing it most of the time. So when he is interested in rehashing the old story his long-suffering supervisor is skeptical (Hume Cronyn). It all starts because news reporter Lee Carter comes to Frady fearful for her life. It turns out that 6 of the people who were there during the assassination have all died one by one. It’s all very circumstantial and seemingly harmless enough. Soon Carter herself is dead due to barbiturates and alcohol. Frady heads first to the town of Salmon Tale (in search of the elusive Austin Tucker), where he runs into trouble with the local authorities and stumbles upon the Parallax Corporation. He gets his rendezvous with Tucker who is also fearful for his life. Minutes later Kabooom.
He continues winding up with more questions than answers as new bits and pieces crop up. It turns out Parallax is in the very lucrative business of recruiting assassins, so he goes off the grid to join them. His training includes a montage of images to condition him, and the audience is submitted to the process as well. Frady diverts a bomb threat thanks to a stack of napkins, but still another one bites the dust. He finally finds his way to a convention hall where a big to do is in the works for a senator. In a perfect bookend, another man is shot and after deliberating the committee concludes Joseph Frady acted alone. The biggest conspiracy in the country gets away with murder again and slinks back in the shadows.
Gordon Willis’s cinematography exhibits beautiful wide and long shots framing his subjects in their environments. Beatty is fit to play the somewhat rogue reporter but very few of the other characters are memorable. Perhaps that’s precisely the point. The film has extremely deliberate pacing (ie. Two men ride up an elevator one after another in no immediate hurry). However, the paranoia elevates as the film progresses, because we have little idea what is going on, we just know that something is going on. I am partial to The Manchurian Candidate, but here is a film that represents the 1970s, a decade still fraught with political unrest and a myriad of recent assassination attempts.