Conspiracy Theory

A little bit of paranoia keeps you on your toes; a lot makes you start lining the walls with aluminum foil. Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) is a talkative, seemingly neurotic cab driver who sees a complot in everything. His memory suffers lapses and he has flashbacks that bring terrifying images into his mind. No question about it (ask any taxi driver) something is sinister in the state of New York (as usual).

To keep the officials informed of the terrible things afoot, he makes regular visits to the Justice Department where he regularly gets thrown out. Well- known, even by the guards, as an eccentric, Jerry doesn't seem to be very effective until he finally winds up being kidnapped. It seems that his little home-made newspaper "The Conspiracy Theory" with a subscription of 5 readers has touched a raw nerve somewhere. Once the wheels of torture start turning, attorney Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts) listens a little more attentively and eventually joins forces with the alleged nutter after becoming sufficiently convinced that there is some substance to his apprehensions.

Jerry becomes obsessed with Alice and she feels compassionate toward this strange man who has also saved her recently from a street mugging. The duo are destined to wind up in a relationship lacking full potential. After all, what do a successful up & coming lawyer and a damaged, anxiety-ridden paranoid have in common? The answer is revealed in the film shortly before the exciting finale and long before the extraneous pastoral last moments.

Gibson is odd, quirky, cuddly and loveable as Fletcher. Roberts is friendly, compassionate, attractive and ineffectual as Sutton. Superb points for Patrick Stewart, who appears as Dr. Jonas, the medical man who has perhaps seen "The Manchurian Candidate" and "The Ipcress File" one too many times. Superb points for Stewart, who once again displays his versatility by creating a classic villain with a velvet voice and a heart of steel that few will forget. (A wonderful anecdote behind the scenes relates that during the shooting of the scene where Stewart gets dumped in the water tank, one of the technicians remarked, "I bet you never did this back in England when you were doing your Shakespeare, huh?")

Why all this contemporary preoccupation with conspiracies? Could it possibly be that the FBI's illegal harassment of radicals during the Vietnam years, CIA attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, illegal CIA experiments on unsuspecting American civilians, Iran-contra, as well as Watergate and the Kennedy and King assassinations have brought about a time of distrust, discontent, and revaluation? Don't be silly; it's only a film, after all. And, as actor Gibson says, "I have no doubt that there's a covert force at work somewhere, keeping things undercover and admitting only certain things to the public." I'm afraid, readers, I'm not at liberty to say anymore about it.

In the hands of Oliver Stone this film might have placed more emphasis on the fears, anxieties and tensions and less on the lovelight of two Hollywood stars and produced a result that would not have suffered in the least. Richard Donner, on the other hand, decides that the extravaganza of what is on screen, rather than the intensity of what is hidden behind it, deserves the limelight. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland, after being approached by producer Joel Silver, combined a story about a paranoid man who accidentally hits upon an actual conspiracy plot with another concept he had about a love story involving two people who never wind up together and produced a script which proves that more is less.

If nothing else, you will discover what happens to all those people nowadays who buy copies of "Catcher in the Rye". By the way, who's that standing behind you?

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett