The influence of director Alan J. Pakula on a screenplay with multiple credited writers working to adapt a novel by Loren Singer is can be primarily the intense and relentless sense of slowly building paranoia that is the film’s driving energy. The Parallax View sits in the middle between Klute and All the President’s Men in what is commonly referred to Pakula’s Paranoia Trilogy. On a more macro-directorial level, Pakula infuses the narrative with a sense of the alienation and isolation that a lone voice in the wilderness crying out against the official story and offering an alternative conspiracy theory must always live with every day.
Casting Warren Beatty as the intrepid lone wolf small potatoes reporter was a brilliant stroke: the character is primed by cinematic circumstances as well as the Parallax Corporation to look like a total kook and easily dismissed goofball. Casting an contemporary of Beatty at the time like the halfway-to-crazy Bruce Dern or even the laid-back odd duck like Elliott Gould would have effectively changed the entire dynamic. Audiences were prepared to trust that Beatty was not going to be playing a conspiracy nut; he could be trusted. At the same time, however, it is key to the whole plot that Beatty be painted as an increasingly unstable conspiracy nut spouting craziness. Balancing this fragile dichotomy would be tricky and Pakula engaged the cinematic tools at his disposal to the utmost. The film is an exercise in how to compose shots for the wide screen. Whether standing in a river fishing while a conversation with a corrupt sheriff becomes increasingly layered with double meaning or chasing after a jet on an airport runway, Beatty is consistently portrayed as one lone figure made all the more diminutive by the vastness of open space surrounding him. In addition to using the wide screen process to underscore that he is almost all alone in his battle to exposed the truth, those surroundings that dwarf his stature are usually endowed with potential for menace.
In the scene with the sheriff when he’s fishing in the river, loud, blaring horns announcing the venting of an enormous dam signal immediate peril. When he is chasing after the jet on the runway, there is looming threat that a bomb has been planted. A quick cut to the plane in flight being watched by a suspicious figure creates the expectation that it is going to explode before our eyes even though we know the star is on the plane and not likely to be blown up halfway through. Pakula uses such quick cuts throughout the film to confound audience expectations. Just as there is the near-certainty that the plane is going to explode even though it is highly unlikely, an earlier cut shocks with the image of a paranoid friend of the reporter lying dead just seconds after it seemed that Beatty’s character had convinced her she was merely being paranoid. These quick cuts are the equivalent of not allowing a person time enough to take in a breath before presenting them with shocking news that has the power either to cause tears of sadness or tears or relief.
All along the way toward the final shocking climax, Pakula systematically uses simple but effect cinematic conventions and traditions to heighten the viewer’s growing sense of paranoia as a way of forcing them to identify with his main character. A main character that becomes increasingly frazzled and slightly less easy to identity with as his paranoia ramps up along the way. A character in whom the audience might lose confidence in before the ending arrives had the influence of Pakula not extended to the perfect casting of an actor for the role like Warren Beatty