They just don't make conspiracy thrillers like this anymore...
1974's THE PARALLAX VIEW is a movie that uses everything available to the medium, to make us feel a certain way, without us consciously knowing why. It may seem completely alien to someone used to watching contemporary films, which rely much more heavily on the actors and the music to carry the full emotional weight of a scene. The 60s and 70s were a time when directors experimented more with making the viewer feel uncomfortable, by purposefully flouting film conventions - the most obvious here being the odd framing of each shot, and the distortion of sound volume vs. distance. Extreme wide shots are used throughout the film to keep the viewer at a frustrating distance from the dirty games being played onscreen, and we're reminded constantly that the lead character is also an outsider, barely scratching the surface of the grim reality portrayed.
The second film in Alan J. Pakula's "paranoia trilogy" (which also includes KLUTE and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN), this was the only one which was not a box office success. There are obvious references to the Kennedy assassinations and the Warren Commission, and the film was released in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. The plot concerns a trickster journalist, played by Warren Beatty, who uncovers a conspiracy involving a corporation connected to political assassins. Only a pathological liar could match these corporate conspirators at their own game, and it is impossible not to root for Beatty's flawed character, as he barely manages to hold his own against much more organized forces. It really is a triumphant performance for Beatty.
The definition of parallax is "an apparent change in the position of an object resulting from a change in the observer's position," and about halfway into this film, if you're really paying attention, you'll see why this word was used. After a four-minute brainwashing montage seen in Beatty's point of view, he suddenly seems to know things that the audience doesn't, which makes the second half of the film all the more intense and frustrating. The audience is hopelessly outside of the circle of conspiracy, a very uncomfortable place indeed - but we are also on the edge of our seats.
What may seem at first like another silly action-thriller is actually, I think, one of the finest examples of cinematic craft. The DVD is out-of-print, but still available to rent at La Dolce Video. For another near-perfect 70s thriller, see also: Francis Ford Coppola's THE CONVERSATION, from the same year.
NOTE: the exceptional camerawork is that of Gordon Willis, legendary cinematographer of the GODFATHER trilogy.