Contains spoilers for War, The Usual Suspects, The Number 23, Perfect Stranger and Secret Window.
I have a confession to make: I’m really starting to despise movies with a twist ending, in particular those that reveal that the protagonist is actually the antagonist (i.e., that guy we’ve been following about for last ninety minutes who’s been trying to solve those mysterious deaths in that haunted old cheese factory? It was him! He did it! And just to piss you off even more, here’s a painfully convoluted explanation). That said, perhaps I should start watching a better class of film than War, in which Jason Statham does his best to get his chops round an American accent. As if anyone needs to be told, the film features two twists, both of them pretty pointless (and one of them a very half hearted attempt at making the protag the antag) – at which point I thought, enough! Twist endings? Take a hike! If any film commits the now unforgiveable sin of revealing that the protagonist is the bad guy, I will snap DVDs and bellow at someone until I get my money back.
The culprits in the area of protag/antag reversal are many and varied: Adam Quigley comes up with a handy user’s guide here, where he points the finger at some of the major offenders in this field – Secret Window, Perfect Stranger, The Number 23: all of them complete rubbish. One notable exception to this list is of course The Usual Suspects, mostly because the film uses the ‘conceit’ of an unreliable narrator: as Verbal is not exactly your typical movie protagonist, the film sits way above the blundering stupidity epitomised by The Number 23.
Even so, what The Usual Suspects did was to kick start a whole slew of scripts and films where the surprise/twist ending was everything. The ending of The Usual Suspects has been criticised quite widely, but I enjoyed the film more for the fact that it didn’t presume its audience were morons, which is certainly something you can’t say about The Number 23. After The Usual Suspects, it was The Sixth Sense, and before, it was Angel Heart. Every few years a standout film will push head and shoulders above its contemporaries and inadvertently inspire a whole new wave of warmed up cack: so it goes.
However, enough is enough, and the reversal/twist ending of protag as antag should be the first casualty. It’s been done so many times – both by great films (Angel Heart) and by rubbish ones (Perfect Stranger) – that it’s stepped across the line and has become a cliché (albeit one that people still use). For me, it’s on a par with being told at a movie’s conclusion: it was all a dream. Arrrggghhh! Can’t we have something a little more intelligent for a change?