After all this, Frady is accepted into the assassin ring. He’s given an assignment and tries to learn more about the corporation and who’s behind it without killing anyone in the meantime. He sends tapes of his activities to his editor, who, wouldn’t you know, dies of a heart attack one evening while drinking a cup of coffee. The tapes disappear.

And so we’re down to Frady. He’s still on the case to uncover the truth about Parallax when we enter the movie’s final scene, which is set at an L.A. convention hall, outfitted with red, white, and blue tables and an unpolished high school band. Senator George Hammond, who rides in on a golf cart, comes to rehearse a speech he is set to give that night. Frady is in the rafters, having followed some Parallax gunmen up there. But they’ve set him up. The senator is assassinated by one of the Parallax men as he drives out of the auditorium; he slumps over as his golf cart plows into the patriotic tables. A member of the band—a pimply tuba player—spots Frady in the rafters. “I see him!” Frady sprints for the door, but is shot by one of the assassins.

Fade to black, and then again with the eerily lit oak panel of stone-faced men in suits. They conclude that Senator Hammond was killed by Joseph Frady. “There is no evidence of a conspiracy. This is an announcement gentleman. There will be no questions.”

In the end, the truth dies with Frady. No story is ever written. The sinister Parallax Corporation continues to operate in surprisingly conspicuous quarters, churning out assassins. All of Frady’s risk-taking and hard work seem not to have mattered—it’s an even bleaker picture, in terms of journalistic efficacy, than the existential crisis that grips the business today. Do we matter? Maybe not.

But Pakula’s message is not an indictment of the journalist, but of the machine and the power structures the poor hack is up against. Pakula made this film in what was something of a golden era of journalism, when people had far more faith in the press than in politicians and their official narratives. Be wary of the powerful. Be wary of the corporate. Be wary of worn-out editors who have gotten too comfortable in the newsroom.

And yet, sometimes the good guys lose. Whereas journalists are triumphant truth-tellers in All the President’s Men, in The Parallax View the journalist is a tragic hero on a lonely—and, as it happens, futile—quest for truth in a world that won’t allow it. Indeed, it was a reflection of the times. While much of the Watergate story had been unraveled on the front page of The Washington Post by the time The Parallax View was released, it wasn’t until later that summer, when Nixon resigned, that journalism ultimately prevailed.

 

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.