Conspiracy Theory (1997) Review

I get frustrated when it seems all the ingredients are there for a great film but the makers or studio or whoever, seem to take the easy, more common or just wimpy option. This decision can come from a mistrust of the intelligence of the audience, trying to make a film fit in with a certain trend or style that is popular in other films or the worst yet, just adding a tacky, happy ending. The worst culprit of this for me is still I Am Legend. All the way through the film I thought I’d figured out the obvious “pattern” and what the film was hinting at. I even had a little guess at the end of the film or at least the general gist of it but no, they decided to go a different way completely.

I thought the original ending of I Am Legend was stupid and ruined everything that had gone before, making a lot of what I thought they’d developed pointless. This stung even more when I found out they had actually filmed the original ending! The ending that made sense and fit with the rest of the film. The ending that would have actually catapulted I Am Legend into one of Will Smith’s best films rather than forgettable, popcorn fodder. Some idiot had decided the new ending fit with Will Smith as hero much better, rather than the “Will Smith’s character is the evil one” ending that I was guessing (and made much more sense.)

The ingrediants are here for a great film… but the story seems to “wimp-out.”

Conspiracy Theory, in my opinion, suffers from the same issue. Its not actually the ending I have the issue with. Its the direction and treatment of the story. The film has great actors, enough money to make it a decent, believable thriller and generally a good idea for a story. Mel Gibson’s taxi driver believes every single conspiracy theory he can and tells the whole world about them, until finally he manages to get one right! A cat and mouse chase ensues, which also manages to include Julia Roberts, and we race along to a decent if quite plain and dull conclusion.

That is my issue. The film has a great, underlying story and the potential to make it better than your average popcorn thriller. Rather than have a typical Mel Gibson vehicle where he gets to act crazy, hit a few guys and kiss the girl, they could have made a genuine, tense, thriller. Rather than you actually knowing Gibson is the good guy who has lucked upon a genuine conspiracy, you could have played with the idea that he may actually be crazy!

Gibson can easily play “crazy” so why not let him?

The film hints at this at one point. The villain, played brilliantly by Patrick Stewart, tries to convince Roberts that Gibson is in fact insane and they are only trying to help him. They quickly kill this idea and get back to the cat and mouse story but if they’d fleshed this idea out a little bit more and placed Julia Roberts in the middle, trying to figure out whether Gibson is really crazy or not, the film would have been much more interesting.

You could really play with the idea, having twists, misdirection and loads of red herrings until we get to the bottom of whether there is a conspiracy or not. That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t try to be clever and there are a couple of twists but they feel more silly than shocking and don’t really change the overall direction of the film. You never really doubt who the good guys and bad guys are or what is going on and in a film called Conspiracy Theory, there should at least be an element of mystery or audience guess work.

I usually don’t like Julia Roberts but she’s decent enough in this film that it should have been better.

Its frustrating because it feels like the original idea, of Gibson being potentially crazy rather than accurately uncovering a conspiracy, was in the film somewhere but had been watered down. The rest of the ingredients for a great film are here; Gibson and Roberts play their parts well but are hardly stretched and Stewart is great as the villain but again, you wouldn’t expect anything less. It’s just a shame that a film starring Gibson, Roberts and Stewart ends up being so ordinary and average.

Overall, a huge missed opportunity. Mel Gibson could have carried a film filled with mystery, misdirection and a clever story rather than this thriller-by-numbers that doesn’t do anything that extraordinary. Considering its called Conspiracy Theory, the conspiracy is poor and the twists and story weak. It should have been better and I get the feeling that somewhere along the line, it actually was!

Rating 2.5

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

The film stars Patrick Stewart, it should have been better!!!

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