I’ve read a ton of reviews of Ben Affleck’s new film, Argo, since posting mine a few days ago, and while most are rather positive, I’ve noticed a trend in reviews, especially among older-aged critics.
Many say despite the fact that they like Argo, they find themselves unable to fully appreciate it because they already know the story’s ending. This is an age-old movie discussion: Can you enjoy a film that you already know the ending to? My simple answer: of course you can.
So, a list. Here are 10 great films based on true stories whose endings are of common knowledge. A few notes: this list is true story specific. Discussing the merits of seeing a movie (say, like The Sixth Sense) that you unwilling know the ending to is an entirely different argument. Lastly, by assuming most know the endings to the stories the following films depict, I’m admittedly being a tad presumptuous with this list. If you don’t know what happened to Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, or have never heard of Watergate, then feel free to pass over the films you don’t want spoiled.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Most know that famed bank robbing lovers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were gruesomely mowed down by several police officers. So, how did director Arthur Penn opt to show you something you weren’t expecting? By… showing you something you weren’t expecting. He shot their demise in tedious slow motion, in full light, with blood and screams and dread. The man singlehandedly changed American cinema during a scene we all saw coming.
All the President’s Men (1976)
After all the research and interviews and covert parking garage meetings, Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward finally convince their Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee, that they have proof to back their story of Watergate. They’re going to blow the whole thing wide open, and ultimately help force the resignation of President Nixon. In one of the best, most telling shots in film history, the film ends with the camera slowly panning into Woodward and Bernstein typing their story furiously in the background, as Nixon, on TV, is inaugurated as President in the foreground.
Malcolm X (1992)
One of the things that makes Malcolm X as endearing as it is, is the fact that the film doesn’t end with the death of its main subject. Instead, Spike Lee ingeniously has actor and Civil Rights activist, Ossie Davis, orate the eulogy he gave at X’s funeral, while Lee fills the frame with archive footage of the real Malcolm X. It’s the perfect swan song for an epic masterpiece. Easily one of the smartest choices of Lee’s career.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Similar to Malcolm X, Steven Spielberg wisely chose to end his film not with Oscar Schindler basking in the glory of all the good he’d done, but rather with a stirring sequence of truth. Gracefully switching to color, we watch as the real life Jewish people Schindler saved, accompanied by the actor who portrayed them in the movie, gently place rocks on Schindler’s grave. That’s unlike anything I’ve seen before or since.
Apollo 13 (1995)
There’s something so emotional about watching Jim Lovell and Co. silently fall back into orbit. Their module dangles in the air, slowly parachuting to the ocean, Ed Harris’ Gene Kranz melts in his chair, cries, and we all let out a sigh a relief we knew was coming.
Minutes earlier, Kranz told his superior that, “I believe this is going to be our finest hour.” And he was damn right.
Often inaccurately cited as the first female serial killer, I knew the demise of Aileen Wuornos long before I stepped into Patty Jenkins’ unrelenting film. I had seen Nick Broomfield’s unflinching documentary, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, and had followed the case closely to see if Wuornos would get an 11th hour stay of execution. Now, in knowing how the film would end, did that make it any less gut wrenching? Not in the slightest.
Is it possible to make a beyond-engrossing film about the final days of Adolf Hitler’s life? With Bruno Ganz fearlessly playing the lead, you bet your ass. Perhaps the many many many many internet parodies would agree.
Since the publication of his book that started it all, author Robert Graysmith has released other tell-alls in which he confidently asserts that Arthur Leigh Allen was indeed the Zodiac killer. David Fincher wisely chose to end his film with the same mentality that most people still have: we’ll never really know who tormented the San Francisco bay area for all those years. An intelligent, and no less eerie, end to a story that may very well never find its conclusion.
'Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man Came singing songs of love.
Rob Epstein’s Oscar-winning film, The Times of Harvey Milk, is one of the finest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Period.
I was well aware that Gus Van Sant’s film wouldn’t end without Sean Penn meeting his demise at the hands of an enraged Josh Brolin. (I wasn’t aware, however, that Van Sant would begin his film by verbally announcing this.) But that didn’t matter. Milk is a wholly courageous movie about a wholly courageous man. Van Sant did the story justice, despite the fact that we all knew how it was going to go down.
Public Enemies (2009)
Anyone with moderate interest in historical American crime knows that John Dillinger met his maker at the hands of the FBI, courtesy of the woman in red (who was actually wearing orange, but anyway).
But thanks to Johnny Depp’s accurate portrayal, guided by Michael Mann’s ever-so-reliable direction, the life and death of Dillinger is never, for a second, anything else than evocative. Bye bye, Blackbird.
There are many more films worthy to make this list, feel free to tell me some of your favorites!