Tag Archives: Alan J Pakula

The Parallax View (1974) 4.43/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 79.5
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 102 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Warren Beatty, Paula Prentiss, William Daniels

Alan J. Pakula’s film is the perfect case of form following function. A series of seemingly unrelated deaths gives a lone journalist (Warren Beatty) reason to believe he has uncovered the existence of a shadowy organisation of specialist contract killers. An American film about political assassinations set in the paranoid years of the early 70′s was always going to be dark and uncomfortable but Pakula takes it to the extreme here but not in any overtly obvious way. Ending many scenes with either an abrupt sense of closure or an ambiguous one, Beatty’s character drifts through the film as though he was never in command of his own destiny. There are lighter moments but they come off as slightly forced and out of pace with the rest of the film such as the bar-fight or the slightly ludicrous car chase. However, any such weaknesses are offset by some terrific sequences such as the famous Parallax assessment scene or that marvelous opening to the film. Michael Small’s music is timeless and was a definite influence on his later even more emphatic Marathon Man score. Overall, The Parallax View is one of the best representatives of a vintage of film-making that has never been matched in terms of the unsettled sense of being it instills in us.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014
Pelican-Brief

The Pelican Brief (1993) 3.09/5 (3)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 66.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 141 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard

Alan J. Pakula’s adaptation of John Grisham’s novel is a somewhat ponderous tale of political intrigue concerning the assassination of two Supreme Court judges and the law student and journalist who uncover the plot. Julia Roberts plays the determined law student and Denzel Washington the hot shot journalist who compile and investigate the dangerously accurate theory of why the judges were killed while dodging bullets, car bombs, and anything else the assassins who are pursuing them can come up with.

The plot to the film has a classical edge to it in that it’s simple in essence but revolves around a number of parties. It unfolds in a way that adds colour to the story and keeps the audience guessing which is exactly what you want from a thriller. Pakula’s direction of the tenser moments is fine if a little underwhelming but his ability to build tension through pacing and framing works its usual magic in the earlier sequences. A scene introducing Stanley Tucci’s hit-man recalls some of the cloak and dagger intrigue of All the Presidents’ Men and the patient buildup of the assassinations echoes similar sequences in The Parallax View.

Moreover, what some might consider a weakness – the lack of a romantic relationship between the two central characters – is actually one of the movie’s strengths, adding, as it does, more interest and unspoken depth to their interchanges. A central platonic dynamic wasn’t decided upon for that reason, however, but  rather because Hollywood still had (had?) a problem with interracial romances back in the 90’s. Thankfully, that’s all changed…!

The problem with the movie emerges as it progresses. Roberts’ star was at its zenith around the time that this film was made and it leads to a peculiar problem. The movie seems to be caught between being a substantial thriller where plot comes first and a vehicle for its headline act. Thus, when the story needs to be pushed forward it often stands still for an unnecessarily long emotional scene in which Julia shows off her acting chops. This places a drag on the film’s momentum and affects the relevance of other characters, many of whom, are relegated to obscure cameos. Sam Shepard is more than capable in one of the more extended roles (Roberts’ law professor and secret lover) as is John Lithgow (Washington’s editor) but Tony Goldwyn (the president’s nefarious chief counsel) and particularly William Atherton (the Head of CIA) are wasted.

Though neither as popular nor respected as Roberts was at time time, Washington was himself arguably climbing rapidly towards the peak of his powers in the early-mid 90’s. Yet, he almost gets lost here. Not for a lack of talent of course but because the story seems to realign itself with Robert’s character at times when his character should be coming to the fore. Roberts, for her part, was never a bad actress and she had and continues to have huge presence. She’s quite good in the role of the frightened yet wilful young go-getter but her character’s whispering grief at key moments in the film can be a little irritating – like listening to someone in need of a good cough!

For hardened fans of intrigue and shadowy plot, The Pelican Brief will fall far short of those classics that gave its sub-genre and the film’s director its standing. Nonetheless, it remains a worthy stab at a Grisham legal thriller and there’s enough there to satisfy anyone looking for a couple of hours of engaging conspiracy drama.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) 4.71/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 95
Genre: Drama
Duration: 129 mins
Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, John Megna, Robert Duvall

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.” To Kill a Mockingbird is cinematic power exemplified as Robert Mulligan brings Harper Lee’s spellbinding novel to the screen and does every word of it justice. Gregory Peck takes on the role of Atticus Finch, the dignified lawyer and father of two whose defence of a black man accused of raping and beating a white woman brings him and his family face to face with the ugliest side of their southern town. Mary Badham and Philip Alford play Scout and Jim, Finch’s two children and it is through their eyes the story is told. Telling this particular story through the perspective of children is surely one of the most ingenuous devices employed in modern story telling as their perspective becomes the soul of the story. Watch out for the scene where the angry mob are shamed into retreat by the mere presence and innocent conversation of the children. If the children are the soul of the film, Peck’s performance is truly its heart and he is utterly tremendous as Finch. Any number of action stars from John Wayne to Arnold Schwarzenegger on their best day didn’t and couldn’t project the strength and force of integrity that Peck did here. In what must be one of the best acting accomplishments in the history of the medium, he gives a masterclass in the power of simplicity as he allows Finch’s disciplined modesty to be the lawyer’s loudest weapons. Through the seminal acting, directing, Elmer Berstein’s beautiful score, and of course its majestic writing the film is completely captivating and has remained the definitive cinematic exploration and indeed explanation of the psychology of racism, fear, cowardice, self-deception, and self-loathing. It is a haunting film that will stay with you on both an emotional and intellectual level for as long as you live.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014

All the President’s Men (1976) 4.64/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 80.4
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 138 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Martin Balsam

Perhaps the best of all the 70′s conspiracy thrillers, this slow burning drama follows the investigation of Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein into the Watergate break in. The film captures all of the complexity of the story and can spin the head of even the most astute viewer. That said, the complexity actually serves to enhance the drama and ultimately the suspense as the two reporters find themselves targeted by the intimidating force they find it so difficult to put a face to. Alan J. Pakula’s direction is superb as he switches between long lens close-ups of the various notes and documents and wide shots of the offices and underground car parks. His use of deep focus and staging in these latter shots is truly extraordinary, a technique he uses on more than one occasion to set the historical as well as circumstantial context to the reporters’ investigations. In setting the tense atmosphere, Pakula is helped ably by David Shire’s subtle and foreboding score and it remains amongst the most recognisable scores from that period. There are some major heavy hitters duking it out on the acting front. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are brilliant as Woodward and Bernstein respectively and have great chemistry together. Jason Robards is in his usual scene-stealing form as editor Ben Bradlee and Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, and Hal Holbrook (as Deep Throat) are excellent in support.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013-2014

Presumed Innocent (1990) 3.5/5 (2)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 68.2
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Duration: 127 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Harrison Ford, Raul Julia, Greta Scacchi

One of the very best courtroom dramas of the 1980/90′s, this film is populated with some of that era’s best scene-stealers and Harrison Ford in one of his best performances as a hot-shot prosecutor on trial for the murder of a colleague. Director of such greats as All the President’s Men and The Parallax View, Alan J. Pakula allows the drama to unfold at a steady pace moving it forward by interlacing the murder investigation with a series of conservative flashbacks which successfully tell the back story without overly intruding on the present. Brian Dennehy, John Spencer, Paul Winfield, and Bonnie Bedelia are all on hand to offer great support. However, great as the aforementioned are, it’s the arch scene stealer, the late great Raul Julia, as the suave and erudite defence attorney who gives this film its defining touch of class.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013-2014

Klute (1971) 4.57/5 (1)

 

Add Your Ratings:

Rating: The Good – 79.8
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 114 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Jane Fonda, Donald SutherlandRoy Scheider

Alan J. Pakula’s first installment in his seminal 1970′s paranoia trilogy is a mesmerising exploration of power and control in the seedy underbelly of New York. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, one of cinema’s more ambiguous characters who is charged with locating a friend and wealthy corporate executive who has disappeared without a trace save some lurid letters which he may or may not have written to a New York prostitute.

Jane Fonda appears quite inspired in the role of the high class prostitute who avoids her insecurities by embracing her professional persona through which she becomes expertly adept at manipulating the men in her life. It’s a complex performance in which she strikes a subtle but believable balance between confidence, harshness, and vulnerability. However, good as she is, she is arguably outdone by Donald Sutherland’s finest ever turn as the inscrutable small town detective. At times, Klute appears lost in the big city and prey for anyone with an edge but at other times that ‘s turned on its head as he takes on a strength which destabilises and confuses those who were previously laughing at him along with the audience. This clever device could’ve been completely lost in the hands of a lesser actor so it’s to Sutherland’s eternal credit that he pulls it off. What’s more, the secret seems to lie entirely in a clear and robust conception of his character for the manner in which Sutherland uses his eyes when showing both sides to Klute’s persona convinces the audience this is genuine personal complexity we are witnessing rather than merely conflicted writing.

Klute is a very dark movie which feels more like a European film from that time thanks to the manner in which it’s structured and shot. Full of hard to make out images and psyche tapping sounds and music, Pakula scintillates us from reel one until the close and keeps us immersed in a murky world of contradiction and anxiety. There are few answers and it is very much left up to ourselves to decide where the characters end up. That of course, is the true strength to this fascinating piece of cinema and the performances which lie at its core.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013