Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Richard Donner
Stars: Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart, Cylk Cozart
Richard Donner’s gripping new thriller further exploits the fascination with paranoid theories, high-level conspiracy and government cover ups that has been made popular through television series like The X Files, and its ilk. Conspiracy Theory begins slowly and awkwardly, but it soon hurtles along at a cracking pace that overcomes the more far- fetched nature of Brian Helgeland’s tense screenplay. Helgeland makes numerous references to some of the other famous paranoid thrillers, such as The Manchurian Candidate, in this deftly plotted exercise in terror.
The central character of this gripping psychological thriller is Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson), a New York cabbie with a mysterious past, who espouses profound theories concerning government cover-ups and conspiracies. Jerry has bizarre theories concerning everything from presidential assassinations to the more sinister possibilities of supermarket bar-codes. He has a skeptical confidante in Justice Department attorney Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts), who soon becomes his ally when mysterious assassins seem to want Fletcher dead. The pair are caught up in a real life conspiracy more bizarre and deadly than anything conjured up by Fletcher’s feverish paranoia. On the run and off-balance, Fletcher and Sutton are unsure of who to turn to for help as nobody is who they claim to be.
Largely cast against type, Star Trek‘s Patrick Stewart establishes a genuinely malevolent presence as Dr Jonas, the sinister CIA psychiatrist whose loyalties are uncertain. In some of his earliest scenes, Stewart bears a disturbing resemblance to Laurence Olivier’s Nazi dentist in Marathon Man. Gibson is quite good here as the conspiracy obsessed Fletcher, a more vulnerable and complex hero than he normally plays, and his performance shows that he is capable of more than the slightly lunatic action hero. Roberts has re-invented herself as an action heroine, with a role that seems similar to the one she played in The Pelican Brief.
This cleverly plotted, suspenseful and compelling thriller is driven by a pervasive and unsettling atmosphere of paranoia. Conspiracy Theory also shows that director Donner is capable of more subtlety than displayed in the violent and pacy Lethal Weapon series. He further demonstrates that he can deftly handle knuckle-biting suspense as well as mindless mayhem, car chases and pyrotechnics. A scene in which Gibson is bound to a wheelchair and interrogated is genuinely nightmarish, and made even more unsettling with some razor sharp editing.