Film Review: Sometimes you find a conspiracy, and sometimes they find you
Directed by Richard Donner.
Written by Brian Helgeland.
Starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, and Patrick Stewart.By Teresa Huang
Richard Donner's latest film, Conspiracy Theory, looked better in the trailer. It had action, suspense, intelligence, and Mel Gibson. What could go wrong? Plenty. Though the film manages to be somewhat entertaining and suspenseful, it concomitantly suffers from too much plot and not enough character development.
Mel Gibson plays New York cabbie Jerry Fletcher, a paranoid man who reads newspapers between the lines to find the conspiracy behind the story, and publishes his theories in a crude underground newsletter called Conspiracy Theory. Aside from his five subscribers, Jerry shares his theories with unwilling Justice Department attorney Alice Sutton, played by Julia Roberts, who listens to him mostly out of pity. Although he takes his newsletter endeavor quite seriously, most people write him off as a nut case until he is suddenly and mysteriously kidnapped, leading him to believe one of his conspiracies must have been true. Drawing Alice into his quest, Jerry seeks to find the men who kidnapped him and to ultimately find the truth.
The highlight of this movie by far is Mel Gibson's characterization of the slightly crazed though lovable New Yorker Jerry. He is thoroughly paranoid and instantly suspecting of everything he sees around him. Convinced there's always someone out to get him, he finds safety in being compulsive about his own protection. His various home security rituals are especially excessive (his apartment alone easily contains more locks and booby traps than a prison), though they're simply part of his daily routine. Jerry always expects the worst, yet manages to live comfortably with his fears, leaving the audience feeling both pity and admiration for him. Gibson brings this excellent character to life through his bashful stuttering and hysterics, showing his versatility as an actor and ability to break away from common pretty boy roles.
Also excellent is Patrick Stewart as the enigmatic Dr. Jonas, whose connection to Jerry is the biggest mystery to be solved. Dr. Jonas is a chillingly rigid and ominous figure, yet his demeanor can shift to being so fatherly that it's difficult to distinguish his lies from the truth.
But while Gibson and Stewart are good, much of the rest of the movie fails. Julia Roberts gives a particularly uninspired performance, negating any inkling of a believable relationship between her and Jerry. She's a Justice Department attorney, yet she doesn't seem all that smart at times, and the audience is never clear exactly why she is helping Jerry.
But most of all, as the movie progressed after Jerry's kidnapping scene, I found myself waiting for, well, a conspiracy theory. Publicity for the movie implied that one of Jerry's theories was actually correct, but that he didn't know which one. In actuality, as the movie develops, the Conspiracy Theory newsletter becomes less and less of an issue as the focus shifts to uncovering who kidnapped Jerry and why. The conspiracy theory the movie revolves around never even appears in the newsletter. In the end, the newsletter is hardly even used as a plot device while the rest of the movie becomes more and more complicated and bogged down in mystery and confusion. By the time everything is revealed, the plot is so convoluted that even the truth can't prevent the film from being altogether unsatisfying.
Although the premise that inspired the film is timely and interesting, the movie seems to have lost some of its vision by the time it was released. Mel Gibson's and Patrick Stewart's smart character development make the movie worth seeing if you're fans, but the rest of the movie offers little else. The truth is out there, but you won't find it in Conspiracy Theory.