I can still remember the first time I was abundantly aware that a feature film must have been released with an ending other than the one the shooting draft was commissioned with. The offender in question was Conspiracy Theory, a 1997 release starring Mel Gibson as a taxi driver who's obsessed with conspiracy theories. His other fixation - a State Department official played by Julia Roberts. He tries to convince her that NASA is going to pull off a presidential assassination by causing an earthquake.
Well, some government baddies led by Patrick Stewart come after Gibson's character, and Gibson and Roberts are led to believe that it's in response to the conspiracy theories presented in Gibson's latest newsletter. When they check the subscription list, everyone but one subscriber has been killed. This leads to a lot of running and chasing, and I admit I don't remember the rest of the film that well.
What I do remember is that the movie was striving for a dark and almost ambiguous tone that it never quite hit. Even at the time, I mostly blamed Gibson, thinking that someone a little off-kilter and unbalanced would have been better. I'd seen Steve Buschemi play such a character in a relatively recent episode of Homicide and figured he'd have been a better fit for the film's attempted weirdness. Gibson's performance is less Cohen Brothers-quirky and more "USA Original Series - Characters welcome" quirky.
Anyway, I've drifted from my point, which is that near the end of the film, Gibson's character is shot and seems to bleed to death right in front of Roberts and medics rush to his aide. Later, we see Roberts visit Jerry's grave... and then she walks away and the film cuts to Gibson and two agents in a van, watching her. There's some hamfisted dialogue about how she has to think he's dead and he's going to help them bring down the remaining players in the conspriacy. There's even a silly feel-good moment involving the three men singing along to a Frankie Valli song featured earlier in the film. This is followed by a coda where Roberts' character finds an object that belongs to Gibson on her horse's saddle.
So everyone's happy - Gibson's alive, Roberts knows he's alive, and we go out on a high note.
I remember walking out of that film thinking "Bullshit! He should have died!" What's more, it really felt like the movie was intended to end with that beat of her at his grave. The two reveals of "Gibson lives" and "She knows" seemed tacked on for an audience that wanted to walk out with a "Happy ending."
It completely ruined the film for me, and to this day I haven't watched it again (hence the hazily-recalled recap above.) Several years later I saw a Richard Donner interview that referenced the reshot ending and had my suspicions confirmed.
This ever happen to you?
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