Directed by Peter Hyams
November 16, 1999 (USA)
After saving a banker (Gabriel Byrne), Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds himself fighting the forces of evil to protect a young woman (Robin Tunney) who has been selected to conceive the Antichrist with Satan.
As Jericho Cane (who names these guys?), Schwarzenegger is not the best of the best here. He is no superhuman fighting machine that can take on all comers. He is a broken man and one that can barely stand strong when things get tough. This character is just good enough which is a change of pace for Schwarzenegger-especially at this point in his career. He was still close enough to his superhuman fighting machine films of the 80s that it would have been easy for him to fall back into that when fighting Satan.
This was a bit of a comeback film for him having been out because of heart surgery after playing Mr. Freeze. He had to prove he still had it and it would have been easy to go back to his old formula. Instead he went a more vulnerable route.
What is a hero without a villain? Gabriel Byrne is cast as a nameless investment banker that gets possessed by the Prince of Darkness a few days before New Year’s Eve. Fortunately, the Devil here is not all twirling mustache villainy. He is a charming and emotionally seductive individual. You could see yourself going “He’s not such a bad guy” even though you know it is the Devil. They avoided a maniacal villain in favor of palatable evil.
Robin Tunney is Christine York who is the young woman at the center of it all. There is nothing particularly special about her other than she was born at the right moment. While Christine is the token damsel in distress, Tunney gives her a little more depth. You are empathetic towards this woman who just wants a normal life to be free of what she assumed were hallucinations and bad dreams.
Kevin Pollak was all over the place for a time in his film career. Between him and Rob Schneider one of them was the sidekick in a movie you were going to see at this time. Usually his job was to provide some levity but here he was more of the a-hole friend.
Rod Steiger shows up as Father Kovak and adds a little bit of quality credentials to this film. His part is largely to bring Jericho up to speed at various points. This was Steiger’s last American made film.
End of Days takes a page from the final two Omen films with the forces of darkness being everywhere. Quite literally they are everywhere. Starting with the hospital the day of Christine’s birth to the present day of the film in the police department and anywhere else you could imagine, they are there. The enemy could be anyone and it usually is as necessitated by the plot but given that they are supposed to be everywhere it is quite acceptable.
And they do not skimp on the weirdness either in this film. These are the forces of pure darkness after all and you have to have the weird in here. My personal favorite is the standout of the character referred to as the Albino (Victor Varnado) who crumbles in the subway. Varnado is an African-American stand up comedienne born with albinism and this gives him an ideal unusual look to be the never truly named ominous character that many horror films have. The character appears briefly but is very noticeable and memorable. Very creepy.
This was not too bad of an effort on the part of Schwarzenegger even though reportedly he is not too thrilled with the end product. I guess it is true that we are all our own worst critics. I think the main issue is that its purpose was to cash in on millennium hysteria. Y2K was big at the time and with the approaching end of the century AND millennium (discussing when a century or millennium actually ends/begins is a thorny topic for later) there was an apocalyptic mentality in many parts of society. If you listened to late night conspiratorial radio you heard of innumerable plots or supernatural occurrences that would happen On December 31, 1999. The public appeared primed to gobble something like this up.
End of Days was a blatant cash grab in an effort to tap in to the zeitgeist of the time. That’s not a bad marketing move but I think if they had tried to tie it less to the specific date of the coming millennium and instead made it more of a vague date where humanity is avoiding the apocalypse type story that could take place at just about any New Year’s Eve then I think it would’ve been appreciated just a little more and get referenced more frequently.
This is the rare film where Schwarzenegger’s character bites the bullet. Outside of the Terminator films I do not think that ever happens. His character always survives to fight another day or ride off into the sunset with the token girlfriend. Not so here. In order to prevent the conception of the Antichrist, the possessed Jericho impales himself on a statue. It is a shocking moment. There was an alternate ending filmed where after impaling himself, God resurrects Jericho and heals his wounds and Christine and Jericho leave the church together.
Aside from the Christ-like implications connected to a suicidal alcoholic, that ending takes away from the impact of the finale and negates the personal redemption the character of Jericho had because of his sacrifice. He found the good man that he once was and moved past the anger and vengeance that was dragging him down and kept him hating the world and life in order to not only save this girl but humanity. By being resurrected it would have said none of what he went through mattered and that God could have intervened at any point and undermined something else involving the film. Father Kovak said early in the film that God would not save us but that we had to save ourselves in response to something Jericho said. Death was the best option.
I think overall End of Days is a solid film. It has a good script and interesting characters and an exciting story. While a little dated because of tying itself to a specific moment, it is still a very good. Watch it!