Conspiracy Theory

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The best things about this movie are not the things the studio wants you to want to see the film for- the story is interesting but not all that spectacularly innovative. The script is clever and Mel Gibson’s performance is really excellent. More on that in a bit. Lots of things happen on screen that the average moviegoer (naturally, I am above average – :) ) would not notice but the discerning viewer can appreciate them – little conspiracy culture in-jokes (some of which are partially explained later in the film) and so forth. The opening sequence is a delightful paranoid rant by Jerry (Mel’s character) to various cab customers of his, edged visually with a film noir sensibility. According to director and cab passenger cameo Richard Donner, that rant is Mel in a nutshell – it was no doubt all improv, and it’s quite funny. The score by the inestimable Carter Burwell (he did the scrumptious Hudsucker Proxy score, and other Coen Brothers films) contributes significantly.

It’s an interesting mix, this seemingly modern X-Files driven fever for seeking and identifying conspiracies, and the more traditional film noir ambiance, but it works – it just makes everything cooler and more likable.

Jerry is a cabbie who devotes insane amounts of time to tracking trends and researching seeming coincidences (and obsessing over Julia Roberts), and he tries to get Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts, in a perfectly acceptable performance) of the US Justice Department, to do something about his findings. He rants and stammers and stumbles but he’s effusively charming and likable, and watching Mel, we know Jerry’s not crazy – there is something going on for sure. If anyone else had played his part (say, Steve Buscemi), he would have come off as crazy and a little dangerous, but Mel’s sincere eyes and painful attempts to organize his thoughts come off as winsome and sympathetic. It’s important to the plot, OK?

Patrick Stewart is a good guy bad guy kind of character with a lot of names and things to say but his part is not written all that well, nor was it written to take advantage of Stewart’s considerable talents. So he is, regrettably, the part of the movie that works the least well, but since he is The Man, he can still make the film happen.

The camera shots are nice, lots of reflections and through-glass and almost-sightings that add to the hysteria and unreality of what Mel experiences. It’s very cool, and I just know not enough people will notice. The 3rd reel is a tad pat, OK, with the stench of test audience, but the journey through Mel’s character makes the destination worth while – like walking through a field of poppies to get to a Burger King. But it’s still worth seeing at full price, really.

MPAA Rating R for some violence
Release date 1997
Time in minutes 140
Director Richard Donner
Studio Warner Bros