Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 1, 2021)
Most trilogies follow the same characters and narrative, but informal collections sometimes come together as well. This leads us to director Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy”.
From 1971 to 1976, Pakula created three films that dealt with conspiracies and a general sense of dread: 1971’s Klute, 1974’s The Parallax View and 1976’s All the President’s Men. We’ll look at the second of this series for this review.
When Senator Charles Carroll (Bill Joyce) gets assassinated, authorities quickly pin the blame on a “lone shooter”, Thomas Richard Linder (Chuck Waters). However, the truth may not be so simple.
A few years later, journalist Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) learns that his fellow reporters have died off in unusual numbers. As Frady digs deeper, he begins to realize the possible existence of a massive conspiracy, one that resides at the mysterious Parallax Corporation.
Of the three movies in Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy”, obviously President’s Men brings the one most closely based on reality since it covers the Watergate scandal. Though a work of fiction, View also clearly takes inspiration from real-life events, with an emphasis on the assassinations of the 1960s.
Going into View, I expected to really like it. For one, I find conspiracy theories fascinating – even if I think 99.9 percent of them are nuts – and for another, I loved All the President’s Men.
45 years after its debut, Men remains a near-perfect political thriller. As much as I like 1982’s Sophie’s Choice, I think Men remains the crown jewel in Pakula’s filmography.
I hoped View would approach its highs, but unfortunately, it creates a disappointment. While not a bad movie, it tends to feel slow and too often aimless.
Even at a relatively short 102 minutes, View can feel long and padded. We find ourselves stuck with scenes that seem extended past the point of necessity.
For instance, when Frady sees the “test video” provided by Parallax, this sequence spans much more time than I think necessary. Other scenes follow this path, like a nearly interminable one on an airplane.
I guess these elongated reels intend to build suspense, but they don’t. They simply feel like filler to get the movie to a respectable running time, and they tend to bore more than they intrigue.
Honestly, a lot of View feels that way, and it never seems as focused on the conspiracy/thriller elements as it should. Frady largely just blunders his way through the story, and he acts more like a brutish thug than an investigative journalist a lot of the time.
I get the sense Pakula wants to give us a sense of semi-documentary realism, and that’s why we end up with so many potentially superfluous segments. View presents information without a ton of directorial comment, and I guess Pakula wants us to find drama among the tedium.
To some degree, I get this approach, as the viewer understands the perennial threat. Given the nature of the story, we feel aware that doom lies around every corner, so the manner in which the movie depicts so many ordinary events in such a leisurely way builds tension in theory.
But only in theory, as I find View to become awfully dull in actuality. As I sat through the film, I constantly waited for real drama or urgency to result, but it never did, not even as we built toward the climactic finale.
In the cynical spirit of the era, View delivers an ironic conclusion, one that appears to intend to ratchet up the paranoid spirit of the times. However, it doesn’t feel especially earned, and it also fails to create a particularly logical or dramatic finish because the prior events feel so blah.
As our leading man, Beatty seems competent, but View doesn’t give him all that much to do. As noted, Frady tends to wander through the movie without a whole lot of apparent drive or insight, so we follow him on his way toward the inevitable gloomy conclusion.
Hey, I’m cool with dark, cynical finales – can someone who loves 1995’s Se7en plausibly relate otherwise? – but I prefer that they feel earned, and I don’t get that from View. Instead, the movie’s ending seems more oriented toward its own navel-gazing cynicism than much else.
Make no mistake: View clearly wants to warn us of the dark forces that reside behind the scenes and manipulate our lives. The film paints a foreboding portrait that seems downright nihilistic in its orientation.
The extremely dispiriting ending seems more like an artificial goal than an earned conclusion. I get the impression those behind View came up with their conspiratorial philosophy and built a story to go with it.
None of it really makes much sense to me, and I feel like the murkiness of “Parallax” and so much else exists as a cop-out. While the viewer may want more insights into this group and the various behind the scenes shenanigans, in the spirit of the time, the movie wants us to see virtually all authority as corrupt and deceitful, a situation that the little guy can’t fight.
Which seems ironic given Pakula’s next movie. Whereas View tells us an investigative journalist will fail miserably at his attempt to reveal corruption, All the President’s Men establishes exactly the opposite.
And Woodward and Bernstein did so with events that enjoyed much lower stakes than the apparently relentless series of murders committed by Parallax! One of my objections to so many JFK conspiracy theories relates to the large number of people involved with the cover-up, as it seems impossible to believe so many could hide so much for so long.
Whereas conspiracy theorists – and View - want us to see believe that shadowy figures behind the scenes control information with an iron glove, Watergate and Men demonstrate the opposite, as one of the most paranoid and self-protective presidential administrations in history couldn’t even put a lid on a two-bit burglary.
Thus is becomes impossible to swallow the events of View as reality based, and the movie doesn’t generate enough tension or drama to compensate for the flights of logic. Perhaps I need to watch View again to appreciate it, but through one screening, the film leaves me disapppointed.