Conspiracy Theory (film)
|Directed by||Richard Donner|
|Produced by||Richard Donner
|Written by||Brian Helgeland|
|Music by||Carter Burwell|
|Editing by||Kevin Stitt
Frank J. Urioste
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
August 7, 1997
August 8, 1997
August 29, 1997
|Running time||135 minutes|
The original screenplay by Brian Helgeland centers on an eccentric taxi driver (Mel Gibson) who believes many world events are triggered by government conspiracies, and the U.S. Justice Department attorney (Julia Roberts) who becomes involved in his life.
The movie was a financial success, but critical reviews were mixed.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2010)|
Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson), an obsessive–compulsive New York City taxi driver, visits his friend Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts), who works for the U.S. Attorney, at the Justice Department. She is trying to solve her father's murder. Jerry tells her that NASA is trying to kill the President using a secret weapon on the Space Shuttle that can trigger earthquakes.
Jerry identifies some men on the street as CIA, follows them into a building, and is captured by them. He wakes up in a mental hospital bound to a wheelchair. A doctor (Patrick Stewart) tapes his eyes open, injects him with LSD, and interrogates him using torture. As the LSD kicks in Jerry remembers many previous sessions, which he sees as terrifying cartoons. In a fit of panic, Jerry manages to bite the doctor's nose and sufficiently incapacitate him long enough to escape, still bound to the wheelchair. He manages to shut himself in a laundry truck, escaping the premises. Jerry goes to Alice's office again and grabs a guard's gun, collapsing in Alice's arms.
Alice visits Jerry in the hospital. Handcuffed to the bed and forced to enter a drug-induced sleep, he pleads with her to switch his chart with that of a criminal in the next bed or he will be dead by morning. In the morning, when Alice visits again, the criminal is dead, as he has suffered a mysterious heart attack during the night. The CIA, FBI and other agencies are there. She meets a mysterious CIA psychiatrist, Dr. Jonas. Meanwhile Jerry fakes a heart attack and escapes again, dropping himself down a linen chute. Jerry dresses up as a doctor and escapes the building.
Jonas quizzes Alice over lunch; she explains that Jerry saved her from muggers once, so she tolerates him. In Jerry's hospital room she finds a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. As she discusses it with an FBI officer named Lowry, the CIA come and confiscate all of Jerry's personal items. Lowry offers to share information with her but she declines.
The CIA cannot find Jerry. Alice goes to her car, and finds Jerry hiding in it. She stops the car and speaks with Lowry, who is tailing them, and then they go to Jerry's apartment where he tells her about his conspiracy theories and his newsletter. He has dozens of copies of Catcher. He feels compelled to buy it, but doesn't know why. They are interrupted when Jerry's alarm goes off, signaling the entry of a CIA SWAT team. Jerry sets everything on fire and they leave by his secret trapdoor exit. In the room below, there is a large mural on the wall, which features both Alice and the triple smokestacks of a factory near the mental institution.
The pair go to Alice's apartment and he reveals he's been watching her through her window. She kicks him out. Outside, Jerry confronts Lowry and his partner staking out her place, and he warns them, at gunpoint, not to hurt her. He goes to a book store and buys a copy of Catcher. The CIA detects his purchase, and sends agents to catch him. Jerry sees their black helicopters with men rappelling down and goes into a theater. He yells "there's a bomb under my chair" and manages to escape during the resulting panic.
The next morning, Alice has been calling each person who gets the newsletter, and they have all died that night except one. Jerry uses a ruse to get her out of the office, and then attaches cables from the CIA vehicle following her to a vendor's cart. On a bus they discuss more of his theories. In a subway station where one Herriman drowned in another conspiracy, she agrees to check the autopsy. He says he loves her and she rejects him.
Alice goes to see the last surviving person on the subscription list, and it is Jonas. He explains that Jerry was an MK-ULTRA subject but the project was terminated - except for his research. Jonas shows her a photo of her father taken from Jerry's locker, and claims that Jerry went out of control and killed her father. She is crushed.
Jerry sends Alice a pizza containing a message to meet him. Jonas gets her to agree to a homing device in the pizza box and Jerry drives her with the box across the Queensboro bridge. He has made previous arrangements that enable him to ditch the agents following them, leaving the homing device behind. As he drives her to her father's private horse stables, Jerry tells her that he can almost remember what happened and is taking her to where "the music is playing." Alice turns on her mobile phone so they can still track her. At the stables Jerry remembers that he was sent to kill her father (a judge who was about to expose Jonas' operation) but found he couldn't kill him. Instead they became friends and Jerry promised to watch over Alice before the judge was killed by another assassin. She admits she switched the charts in the hospital. The CIA arrive and capture Jerry. Jonas gloats but Jerry says, "you've never seen her run." Alice outruns the men; a sniper misses her, killing the last guy chasing her, and she escapes.
Jonas tortures Jerry again. Meanwhile, Alice leads the FBI men (who are not actually FBI but from a "secret agency that watches the other agencies") to Jonas' office, but it has been entirely dismantled. Declining Lowry's help, Alice starts searching for Jerry. She realizes that a detail of Jerry's large mural is near a mental hospital and goes there. She bribes an attendant to show her an unused wing, breaks in through locked doors, and finds Jerry after hearing him singing through the ventilation ducts. As Jonas catches them, Lowry arrives with his men and attacks Jonas's men. Jerry attempts to drown Jonas but is shot once. In retaliation, Alice shoots Jonas dead. Alice tells Jerry she loves him as he is taken away in an ambulance.
Some time later, Alice visits Jerry's grave, leaving his union pin upon it, before returning to horse riding. As she rides away, Jerry, Lowry and Flip watching her. Jerry is not allowed to contact her until they are sure they have rounded up all of Jonas' other subjects. He secretly lets her know he is still alive by placing his union pin on her horse's saddle and the film ends.
- Mel Gibson as Jerry Fletcher
- Julia Roberts as Alice Sutton
- Patrick Stewart as Dr. Jonas
- Cylk Cozart as Agent Lowry
- Steve Kahan as Mr. Wilson
- Terry Alexander as Flip
- Pete Koch as Fire Captain
- Dean Winters as Cleet
- Sean Patrick Thomas as Surveillance Operator
- Joan Lunden as TV Announcer
- Rick Hoffman as Night Security
- Richard Donner as Cab Passenger
- Tom Schanley as Lawyer
Early in the film, Jerry Fletcher expounds on a number of his theories to a succession of taxi passengers. On one of the featurettes included on the DVD release of the film, director Richard Donner reveals these scenes were ad-libbed by Mel Gibson. The extras acting as passengers were not told what Gibson was going to say because Donner wanted their reactions to be as spontaneous and realistic as possible.
The film was shot on location in and around New York City. Sites included Times Square, Union Square, Greenwich Village, the Queensboro Bridge, Roosevelt Island, and the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York.
The soundtrack includes "Just Maintain" by Xzibit, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by The Police, and two renditions of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", one by Frankie Valli and the other by Lauryn Hill.
In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said, "The only sneaky scheme at work here is the one that inflates a hollow plot to fill 2¼ hours while banishing skepticism with endless close-ups of big, beautiful movie-star eyes . . . Gibson, delivering one of the hearty, dynamic star turns that have made him the Peter Pan of the blockbuster set, makes Jerry much more boyishly likable than he deserves to be. The man who talks to himself and mails long, delusional screeds to strangers is not usually the dreamboat type . . . After the story enjoys creating real intrigue . . . it becomes tied up in knots. As with too many high-concept escapades, Conspiracy Theory tacks on a final half-hour of hasty explanations and mock-sincere emotion. The last scene is an outright insult to anyone who took the movie seriously at its start."
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly graded the film B- and commented, "Richard Donner . . . switches the movie from a really interesting, jittery, literate, and witty tone poem about justified contemporary paranoia (and the creatively unhinged dark side of New York City) to an overloaded, meandering iteration of a Lethal Weapon project that bears the not-so-secret stamp of audience testing and tinkering."
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle stated, "If I were paranoid I might suspect a conspiracy at work in the promoting of this movie - to suck in audiences with a catchy hook and then give them something much more clumsy and pedestrian . . . Conspiracy Theory can be enjoyed once one gives up hope of its becoming a thinking person's thriller and accepts it as just another diversion . . . When all else fails, there are still the stars to look at - Roberts, who actually manages to do some fine acting, and Gibson, whose likability must be a sturdy thing indeed."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed the film "cries out to be a small film - a quixotic little indie production where the daffy dialogue and weird characters could weave their coils of paranoia into great offbeat humor. Unfortunately, the parts of the movie that are truly good are buried beneath the deadening layers of thriller cliches and an unconvincing love story . . . If the movie had stayed at ground level - had been a real story about real people - it might have been a lot better, and funnier. All of the energy is in the basic material, and none of it is in a romance that is grafted on like an unneeded limb or superfluous organ."
In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers said, "The strong impact that Gibson makes as damaged goods is diluted by selling Jerry as cute and redeemable. Instead of a scalding brew of mirth and malice, served black, Donner settles up a tepid latte, decaf. What a shame - Conspiracy Theory could have been a contender."
Todd McCarthy of Variety called the film "a sporadically amusing but listless thriller that wears its humorous, romantic and political components like mismatched articles of clothing . . . This is a film in which all things . . . are treated lightly, even glibly . . . One can readily sympathize with . . . the director's desire to inject the picture with as much humor as possible. But he tries to have it every which way in the end, and the conflicting moods and intentions never mesh comfortably."
In his 2003 book A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, political scientist Michael Barkun notes that a vast popular audience has been introduced by the film to the notion that the U.S. government is controlled by a secret team in black helicopters — a view once confined to the radical right.
Box office performance
Conspiracy Theory was released August 8, 1997 to 2,806 theaters with an opening weekend gross of $19,313,566 in the United States. The film opened at number 1 in the U.S. displacing Air Force One as the number 1 film. The film eventually grossed $75,982,834 in the U.S. and $61,000,000 in foreign markets for a total worldwide gross of $136,982,834. This final gross qualified Conspiracy Theory as the 19th highest grossing film in the U.S. in 1997.
- Conspiracy Theory. Boxofficemojo.com.
- Conspiracy Theory, Rotten Tomatoes.
- Maslin, Janet (August 8, 1997). "Conspiracy Theory: He's Paranoid, With Good Reason". New York Times.
- Schwarzbaum, Lisa (August 15, 1997). "Conspiracy Theory (1997)". Entertainment Weekly.
- LaSalle, Mick (August 8, 1997). "A Shaky Theory". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Ebert, Roger (August 8, 1997). "Conspiracy Theory (R)". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Travers, Peter (August 8, 1997). "Conspiracy Theory". Rolling Stone.
- McCarthy, Todd (August 3, 1997). "Conspiracy Theory". Variety.
- Barkun, Michael (2003). A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. University of California Press; 1 ed. p. 34. ISBN 0-520-23805-2.
- Conspiracy Theory at the Internet Movie Database
- Conspiracy Theory at AllRovi
- The Filming of a Theory: Behind the Scenes Photo Essay - at Adventures of a GoodMan: Photography, Storytelling & Travel