Wishful Thinking – Endings

This example is going to prove VERY “Inside Baseball” and I apologize for it. But the end to this film is a perfect illustration of this exercise in rewriting endings. Back when Cuba Gooding Jr. had a viable career, he starred with Anthony Hopkins in an effective psychological drama called Instinct. Hopkins plays a famous anthropologist who left society to live in the jungle with gorillas in Africa and ends up being locked in an institution for committing murder. Gooding is the psychologist who is trying to figure out why it happened. It is actually a pretty well-acted little drama. Engaging though it may be, I can’t get over the last minute of the movie. Hopkins has broken open a window and escaped the institution in a very One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest type ending. It’s effective and uplifting. End credits. Well, they should have rolled the end credits. If they had stopped there, you could have filled in the rest for yourself, that he went off to live in obscurity, or die, or any number of scenarios. Instead, the director tries to put a bow on the whole affair by showing Hopkins back in Africa romping around with his gorilla buddies. The problem now is instead of having closure about his mental state and being moved, I am obsessed with the question of HOW THE HELL DID HE GET TO AFRICA? He escapes a mental institution in nothing but a hospital gown. No money, no passport, barely sane, I’m assuming no international travel regimen of immunizations, and he’s able somehow to travel back to the middle of the jungle halfway around the world? What? It takes the focus off of what the movie should have been in an attempt to make the audience feel good.

When it comes to endings, I’ve got a special beef to pick with Ron Howard. I truly believe he is an effective director who knows how to get memorable performances from actors in often crowd-pleasing films. But he also tends towards safe endings. Most of the time his movies end on a happy or easily digestable note. His two best films in my estimation are Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon. And in both of those cases, since they are based on true stories, he couldn’t really do anything to screw them up. In fact, Apollo 13 is just that much more amazing since everyone knew how the story would end before even seeing the film, and yet he could still wrench tension out of the whole adventure. We feel those astronauts are in genuine peril. However, his remake of Ransom is a great example of 3/4s of a really good film that ends way too neatly. Here’s where it should have ended: Gary Sinise is in Mel “Human Train Wreck” Gibson’s house collecting the reward money. His son recognizes his captor, pees his pants, and Sinise gets out of the house before being arrested. The end. Bleak, yes. But also challenging and exciting. Instead, Howard has Mel go into full Mad Max mode, run down the former kidnapper on foot and get into one last melee so that the bad guy gets his comeuppance. Rich millionaire type is able to physically take out former cop who isn’t afraid to do violence. Kind of like having Paul Allen hunt down Gary Ridgway on foot. Yes, it’s catharsis for the audience to see the bad guy get it, but it’s way too safe an ending.

The Paper:
To continue my Ron Howard rant, an often forgotten but strongly acted movie of his from the 90s was The Paper. The cast is top notch, with Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid, and Glenn Close working their way through 24 hours of a news cycle at a New York City tabloid. Up until the last five minutes, it really is a good old-fashioned newspaper drama. But it ends with Keaton’s character convincing Close’s character just in time to not run the falsely written racially charged story at the center of the film. They stop the presses, reprint the edition, and everyone lives happily ever after. Yawn. This film could have been a modern day equivalent to a 70s era indictment of the media a la Network if instead Close’s character didn’t make her highly uncharacteristic 180 at the end of the film. If the paper had run the story incorrectly and possibly caused the race riot they are afraid of throughout, it would have provoked the audience. But greatness was not achieved.

Lethal Weapon 2:
I have always contended that Lethal Weapon 2 would have been the greatest action movie of all time if Riggs had died at the end. That’s where the movie was headed too. After Joss Acklund yells “Diplomatic Immunity” and Mel is laying in Danny Glover’s arms bleeding as he’s yelling at Mel that he doesn’t give him permission to die, Riggs had saved the day. He had gone out a hero. But they end it with them making a joke about kissing each other. The movie ends on a laugh so that they can go on to make two more sequels. Look, I genuinely like watching Jet Li in the fourth film, but I could have given that up for the second movie to have an awesome ending.

The Family Man:
I know of many fans of this movie, but there is something about this reverse It’s A Wonderful Life that actually bugs me a lot, and it mostly has to do with how it ends. So Nic Cage has gone through his role reversal throughout the whole film where he learns how a relationship and family life would have been worthwhile. Great, fine. At the end, he is back in his original life where he is a lonely but successful business man who has had a Scrooge-like change of heart and now knows the value of having a life outside of work. So then, he re-meets Tea Leoni’s character in this reality, they hit it off, and the movie ends with them looking as though they are getting back together after all of these years. While that’s good for him that he’s met his soul mate, what has he actually sacrificed then? Because now, not only does he have the successful career with lots of money, but he has the woman of his dreams as well. So a rich guy got to be happier than he was before. Wow. The difference is George Bailey in his real life sacrificed constantly for the good of others, and at the end he learns that it was all worthwhile. Cage’s character on the other hand had to sacrifice nothing and he still gets everything he wants. He will actually end up with a better life than if he had made the family-oriented choices he was shown in the alternate reality. Bugs me to no end.

There are probably a lot more examples of how certain movies could end better. It might be fun to hear some of yours. I’m sure that some will want to debate choices I have here as well. Please do. This is a fun little game I invite you all to join. Thanks.

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I'm a family man who got his Drama degree back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and now works at a desk. I love movies of all kinds, and I am still working my way through the list of 1001 movies you must see before you die.

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