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Film / The Parallax View

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The Parallax View is a 1974 conspiracy thriller film, directed by Alan J. Pakula and starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, William Daniels, and Paula Prentiss, about one reporter's search for the truth regarding a political assassination.

TV reporter Joe Frady (Beatty) is among the many people to witness the assassination of US Senator and possible presidential candidate Charles Caroll (William Joyce), who is shot while campaigning at a restaurant atop Seattle's Space Needle.note  Three years later, he is approached by his ex-girlfriend and fellow reporter Lee Carter (Prentiss), who claims to have been one of a few witnesses to see a second gunman, and tells him that someone is killing these witnesses. In spite of her fears that she's next, Frady brushes her off, only to learn the next day that she's been killed in a car accident. Now suspicious, Frady begins to investigate, and discovers the late Caroll was linked to the shady Parallax Corporation. He decides to infiltrate one of their programs, and the danger grows.

Despite its convoluted, unlikely conspiracy plot, this is a great thriller embodying Seventies paranoia in the aftermath of the JFK, RFK, and MLK assassinations, Vietnam, and Watergate. Coincidentally enough, the movie was released at the same time impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon were underway.

Not to be confused with the trope Motion Parallax.

Tropes featured include:

  • Affably Evil: Sheriff L.D. Wicker. Sure, he's a Dirty Cop in on the conspiracy, but he's rather friendly and accommodating to Frady, and even brings him lunch before trying to kill him.
  • Agent Scully: Bill is rather dismissive of Frady's claims of a conspiracy, doubting everything he says until he gets shown evidence. Even then, Bill doesn't treat it with the gravity it deserves, resulting in him getting killed by an assassin he dismissed as a new employee.
  • The Alcoholic: Frady used to be this, but he kicked the habit a few years before the movie.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's left ambiguous if the Parallax Corporation always knew who Frady was, or if he was always going to have been set up as a patsy.
  • Ambiguously Gay: It's implied Tucker and his bodyguard are lovers, but nothing is explicitly stated.
  • Assassination Attempt: Based on a 1970 book of the same name, this film's plot opens with the assassination of a Senator who's a potential Presidential candidate. In the course of the protagonist's investigation into this, two other candidates are assassinated years later as well, while he's framed for the latter and killed.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Frady not only fails to publicly unmask the true nature of the Parallax Corporation and prevent their assassination of a senator but is also killed at the scene and ends up being blamed for the assassination by the official investigation committee. Meanwhile, the Parallax Corporation is able to continue its murderous operations unscathed.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Frady does this foolishly in the finale, picking up the dropped sniper rifle that was just used to murder another candidate. This sets him up as the fall guy. Of course, if he hadn't then the real killers probably would have just pressed it into his hands anyway after he'd been shot.
  • Black Comedy: After Hammond is shot, his golf cart spirals out of control and rams into several tables while his pre-recorded speech continues to blare on through the speaker.
  • Blipvert: The montage the Parallax Corporation shows Frady is a famous example.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nobody (including Frady) believes Lee's story until she dies herself.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Schwartzkopf, who plays Pong with a chimpanzee and gleefully tells Frady about the time a chimp bit off a colleague's ear.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: The titular Parallax Corporation secretly looks for recruits with sociopathic tendencies to supply their real business as a Murder, Inc.. They also may or may not be a government front.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Red's fight with Frady is pretty one-sided... on Red's end.
  • Da Editor: Bill Rintels is an unusually calm example. Still, he generally tries to deter Frady from doing any real serious investigations that could cause him any trouble and doubts his every claim until he gets solid evidence of the conspiracy in front of him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Frady and Will Hunter.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • Wickers, a local sheriff who's a mid-ranking employee of the Parallax Corporation. He's done dirty work for them before, having murdered a witness to the Caroll assassination, making it look accidental. Bill also mentions he was indicted for an unrelated utility scandal, too.
    • On a pettier scale, Wickers' nephew, Deputy Red, is an asshole who takes undue advantage of his badge to bully people. Not even his uncle approves.
  • Downer Ending: Frady is killed by an assassin and posthumously framed for having killed Senator George Hammond, while the Parallax Corporation has killed everyone who could have exposed it and gets away scot-free.
  • Ear Ache: Schwartzkopf mentions a chimpanzee once bit off a colleague's ear, though it was stitched back on.
    Frady: Wonderful.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Wickers admits he's disgusted with Red's behavior, and that he would've interfered in his fight with Frady had Frady not been absolutely destroying Red.
  • Faking the Dead: After surviving the bombing of Austin Tucker's boat, Frady is reported dead, and tells Bill to keep it that way, so he, Frady, can find out what's going on. Unfortunately, it does neither of them any good.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Jack Younger does his best to come off as a polite Benevolent Boss, but he's too cold and menacing to pull it off.
  • Frame-Up: Frady ends up being the fall guy in another assassination, just like what happened with the one at the start of the film, which he was trying to solve.
  • The Film of the Book: Adapted from the 1970 novel of the same name by Loren Singer.
  • Government Conspiracy: The basic premise. Inspired by Who Shot JFK?, an Intrepid Reporter discovers a program to create 'lone gunman' assassins for political murders.
  • Hope Spot: After Hammond's assassination, Frady is spotted in the rafters, but is running down a hallway with a light at the end, and it looks like he's going to make it out of there without being discovered - that is, until a man appears at the end of the hallway and shoots Frady dead.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Frady finds a clue to the shadowy conspiracy in documents sent from the Parallax Corporation, some of which are a psychological test. With expert assistance Frady answers all the questions the way a sociopath would, and voilà! he's recruited as an assassin himself.
  • Infraction Distraction: Invoked by Frady after his meeting with the ex-FBI agent; he pretends to be someone accused of exposing himself to a woman in order to get into the Parallax corporation. As the ex-FBI agent points out, if they investigate the false alias he used to cover up that so-called past, once they get to the second fake alias, they won't bother investigating too much.
  • In Name Only: While it's based on Loren Singer's novel of the same name, the film shares with it only some broad plot elements (witnesses to a political assassination dying mysteriously, journalists uncovering a corporation hiring assassins) and a few specific scenes like the Parallax personality test. The characters (three journalists investigating the case in the book, not just Frady), settings (most of the novel takes place in New York and Washington, D.C. as opposed to the movie's setting in the Pacific Northwest) and major plot points differ widely between the two works. The novel's ending is also a lot less bleak than the movie's, offering some hope that Parallax will be exposed.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: After Frady escapes from being killed by L.D. (the sheriff in Salmontail) and tries to convince Bill, his editor, that there's something going on, Bill points out L.D. and the rest of the sheriff's department had been under indictment for corruption regarding a utilities scandal, so of course he would try and get rid of a reporter. Frady points out he didn't use his real name, and he never identified himself as a reporter, but Bill still doesn't buy it.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Frady and Carter are both investigative journalists who willingly go to any lengths in uncovering the truth, even at great personal risk. Unfortunately, both get killed for it.
  • Jerkass:
    • Austin Tucker, who's paranoid and hostile to Frady, even insulting him to his face and repeatedly accusing him of being an assassin.
    • Deputy Red, who's a hotheaded bully who tries to humiliate Frady just for kicks.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Frady is uncouth and somewhat shifty, but he's a dedicated worker trying to atone for dismissing Lee.
    • Bill. He's gruff and apathetic, but he does care about Frady and even hired him back after he previously fired him when Frady had succumbed to his crippling alcoholism.
  • Karmic Death: Wicker had previously drowned one of the witnesses with the dam's floodgates and tries to do the same to Frady. Frady puts up enough of a fight so that they're both caught in the rapid water flow, and Wicker winds up dragged off by the current and drowned while Frady gets away.
  • Karmic Misfire: Frady not only fails to publicly unmask the true nature of the Parallax Corporation and prevent their assassination of a senator but is also killed at the scene and ends up being blamed for the assassination by the official investigation committee. Meanwhile, the Parallax Corporation is able to continue its murderous operations unscathed.
  • Kill It with Fire: Tucker and his aide get blown up.
  • Last-Name Basis: Everyone seems to refer to Frady by his last name, with the exception of Younger (though Frady's using an alias when they interact).
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Parallax has a remarkable ability to makes its targets die "natural"-seeming deaths, whether staging murders as car accidents or a pill that can induce embolisms.
  • Murder, Inc.: The Parallax Corporation seems to be this, whether or not it was a secret government front, as their entire business is arranging assassinations.
  • Never Found the Body: A Freeze-Frame Bonus of a newspaper article reveals that Frady, Tucker, and Tucker's aide's bodies weren't dredged up from the river. In Frady's case, it's because he's alive and Faking the Dead, but who knows about the other two.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: The assassination at the Space Needle in the beginning ends with the "gunman" (really the patsy) falling to his death after rolling off the roof.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: When Frady talks to a coroner about Lee's death and insists that she wouldn't have been reckless enough to get high while driving, the coroner simply states that "some people want to die", inadvertently parroting Frady's off handed insinuation that she was suicidal. Frady is appropriately guilt-ridden.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The literally shadowy committee which appears at the beginning of the film, proclaiming that a Presidential candidate had been assassinated by a single gunman (who has three names, just as Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth did).
  • Orphaned Setup: One patron at the lodge in Salmontail begins to tell a joke about a man ordering "12 bourbon and waters", but is interrupted before he can get far.note 
  • Police Brutality:
    • A drug den Frady is undercover in is raided by some cops who rough everyone up and break everything in sight, then try to pin the damages on him in a bid to blackmail him to give away his sources. They're eventually persuaded to drop it by Bill's promise to keep Frady out of their hairs for a while and Frady's hectoring and protests.
    • Small-Town Tyrant Red harasses Frady at a bar and tries to publicly humiliate him, and then assaults him when he doesn't go along with it. The result is that Frady beats the crap out of him in a Bar Brawl.
  • Pre-Insanity Reveal: A variant. During the opening scene, Tucker is charming and well-groomed, talking confidently about Senator Caroll's prospects. When we see him in the present day, he's hostile, paranoid, and unkempt.
  • The Quiet One: Bill McKinney's assassin character has no dialogue in any of his scenes.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Frady not only fails to publicly unmask the true nature of the Parallax Corporation and prevent their assassination of a senator but is also killed at the scene and ends up being blamed for the assassination by the official investigation committee. Meanwhile, the Parallax Corporation is able to continue its murderous operations unscathed.
  • Small-Town Tyrant: Deputy Red is a total jerkass that enjoys taking advantage of his badge to bully people. His uncle Sheriff Wickers is himself a Dirty Cop, but even he frowns on Red's behavior.
  • Un-person: Will laments that the FBI has not only fired him, but had taken his name off of the list of ex-FBI agents for whatever reason.
  • The Un-Reveal: It's never revealed whether Frady was always known to the Parallax Corporation, or whether they set him up specifically, or was whoever they recruited intended for that.