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Paranoiac Pakula

from Inside Hook

What the Paranoid ’70s Thrillers of Alan J. Pakula Can Teach Us About 2020

Revisiting the American director’s “Klute,” “All the President’s Men” and “The Parallax View”

BY MONICA CASTILLO

Alan J. Pakula’s 1970s “paranoia trilogy” connects to 2020.
Alan J. Pakula’s 1970s “paranoia trilogy” connects to 2020.

Early in The Parallax View, reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) chases after clues to a string of mysterious deaths in a remote fishing town. The locals don’t take kindly to the outsider asking questions, but the friendly sheriff intervenes and offers to take Frady to the spot where one of the victims drowned. Even though it looks like Joe’s relieved for a break in his story, he’s still on guard, nervously surveying the way people are looking at him and doubting the sheriff’s assuring grin. Something’s not right. When the sheriff takes Joe to the river, he pulls a gun, and it’s up to Joe to figure a way out of a conspiracy into which he’s suddenly thrust. 

That heightened sense that no one can be trusted and that there are greater invisible forces at work help give Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” of the 1970s its moniker. Starting with Klute in 1971, followed by The Parallax Viewin 1974, and ending with All the President’s Men in 1976, Pakula’s films paint a bleak picture of a nation united in chaos. These movies reacted to the tumult ushered in by the Watergate scandal. The Pentagon Papers had revealed a number of ugly truths about the Vietnam War and exposed the existence of COINTELPRO, an illegal FBI surveillance program that intended to destabilize leftist political groups. One of Pakula’s films reckons with the ordeal explicitly: in All the President’s MenWashington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) piece together the full story behind the Watergate breakin. The other two are more subtle in their approach. In Klute, sex worker Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) quickly learns that she can’t rely on police protection to rid her of a dangerous stalker.

[ click to continue reading at Inside Hook ]

Posted on August 15, 2020 by Editor

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