WARNING: Major spoiler.
Like many films that come out these days, this one cannot be properly ripped to shreds without revealing the ending, and I mean the very end. So don't read on if you have any intention of seeing it. Is that enough warning? Do you get it? Any complaints in the forums will clearly mark you as an idiot of major caliber (which is not a good thing).
I'm still not sure what this film is about, but what I am sure of is that director Sean Penn didn't have to waste two hours and five minutes of my time trying to explain it. What happens in the end is that retired Detective Jerry Black has spent the entire film trying to catch a child rapist only to have the guy crash his car before Jerry can trap him -- an event that ruins Jerry's life because he can't establish the veracity of his hunch.
Penn makes the common, "I've lived in Hollywood too long" mistake of assuming that because a movie does not end according to the audience's expectations, it makes it interesting, dark, and artistic. Fact is, this is just a standard mystery until the very end when Penn apparently decides he wants to teach everybody a lesson in how the need to be right can destroy a person's life, whether he's right or not.
And what's with all the damn cameos? As far as I can tell, this is just Penn screaming: "hey look at who I can get to do my film!" Helen Mirren appears on screen for about a minute as a psychiatrist Jerry goes to see. What the hell was that scene all about? If Mirren hadn't played the psychiatrist, I guarantee you it would have been chopped right out of the film. Though it's not a cameo, Robin Wright Penn plays the woman Jerry befriends, and whose daughter Jerry manipulates into being bait. Penn has a chipped tooth that Jerry eventually pays to have capped -- AS THOUGH HE WERE PUTTING HER LIFE BACK TOGETHER, HUH? That kind of swat-me-over-the-head-with-an-axe symbolism I could do without. Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, and Harry Dean Stanton are also in the film for a combined five seconds or so.
And what is this, like the fifth film this month to feature Benicio Del Toro? Aside from an amazing ability to make English sound like another language, what is the guy's appeal? Though I may not have cared for all the annoying "hey, look at all the people I know" stuff, it was still Penn's "look, I've got something to teach you" attitude that drove me up the wall. This slow, plodding film ends with a lesson that isn't anywhere close to being as profound as Penn thinks it is, which is exactly the kind of lesson bratty, little pissants like Penn try to teach.
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