‘Poolman’ Ending Explained & Movie Recap: Does Darren Kill Councilman Toronkowsky?

Poolman had a lot going for it. Chris Pine, a solid and dependable actor, is directing for the first time while also playing a Lebowski-esque lead character. A Los Angeles-set neo-noir tale of conspiracy, scheming, and murder. And a stacked cast—filled with names like Annette Benning, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Clancy Brown, DeWanda Wise, Stephen Tobolowsky, alongside the legendary Danny DeVito and Ray Wise (Twin Peaks fans should know who that is). Sadly, the film turned out to be nothing but a big howler. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but absolutely nothing works here. The writing is clunky. The central mystery is dumber than the detective novels I used to write inside my head when I was in the seventh grade. Nothing good can be said about the acting either, except DeVito and Wise, who always fire no matter what the situation. The only saving grace is probably the retro-cool soundtrack, which suits the trippy, laid-back vibe of this film. But its vibe is the only thing Poolman has, and it relies way too much on that. If you’re unfortunate enough to watch the film and are confused about the mystery, then this article is going to help you untangle things, hopefully. Although, if you ask me, I would rather ignore Pine’s overindulgent misfire and move on with life. 


Spoilers Ahead

What is the film about? 

In an LA apartment complex, eccentric Darren Barrenman lives and works as a poolman. He is dating the apartment manager Susan, who’s still hung up on her (now dead) former lover Samir but also wants Darren to walk the aisle with her. Darren, however, has other things to do. He’s someone who deeply cares for the neighborhood and keeps having battles with councilman Stephen Toronkowsky at city hall. Darren takes therapy from this woman, Diane, who lives in the same apartment complex. He’s also the subject of a documentary, which is being helmed by Diane’s partner, Jack. Darren keeps writing these letters to Erin, narrating what’s happening in his life. Erin seems like an ex-wife or girlfriend at first, but ultimately turns out to be Erin Brockovich (the famous environmental activist, remember?). Last but not least, there’s this guy Wayne, who’s friends with Darren, Susan, Diane, and Jack and pops up randomly—until turning out to be someone important by the end. 


Who’s June, and What Does She Want From Darren? 

June is the instigator of the mystery. She works for councilman Toronkowsky, but after Darren ends up in jail thanks to another fight at the city hall, she bails him out. June obviously has a motive—she needs Darren’s help to uncover a corruption scheme, orchestrated by the councilman and shady real estate developer Teddy Hollandaise. Yes, Darren happens to be a detective (probably self-proclaimed) as well, because Chris Pine wants to wear every hat at once in his movie. Darren is a little skeptical about taking the case, but how can he not jump at an opportunity like this? Diane tries to talk him out of it, but Jack is ecstatic and encourages his subject to take the plunge. So there he goes, following the councilman like a shadow, staking him out, taking photos of him and Teddy exchanging briefcases (filled with money, in all likelihood) in order to get to the bottom of him. The subplot of Susan cheating with Wayne and subsequently breaking things off with Darren is also there, but it doesn’t add anything to the narrative. Darren is heartbroken, but everyone still remains friends, like nothing ever happened. Jack’s (and also Darren’s) obsession for food also doesn’t add anything, but I can’t deny that watching Danny DeVito constantly blab about Japanese (and all kinds of) food is oddly satisfying. 

When Darren goes to finally see Teddy Hollandaise (with the photos), he comes across this businessman, William Van Patterson (might just be a reference to the Jim Jarmusch movie, given Pine pays homage to a number of movies), who offers him some delicious almonds (soaked in some honey and wasabi, which is something I want to try as well). Anyway, upon confronting Teddy, the real estate man denies being part of anything shady and puts everything on the councilman.


Does Darren kill Councilman Toronkowsky?

I would say Stephen Toronkowsky turning out to be more good than bad is a welcome twist—the only one that makes some sense. I bet you didn’t see the cabaret and cross-dressing coming! Of course, Darren didn’t anticipate it either. So when the councilman reveals his other half, the feminine Blanche, Darren is understandably baffled (just like the audience for most of the film). It turns out that the councilman was involved in the scheme at some point, but upon realizing that would hurt the city, he backed out and is now fighting the evil. He in fact plans to out the culprits very soon, but seeing how persistent Darren is, the councilman decides to reveal everything. Sadly, just when he’s about to do so, he’s randomly shot by someone and dies. All he gets to tell Darren is that he is following the water. Well, he could have just said the name of the person who’s the mastermind behind the evil scheme, right?

But Poolman likes the theatrics, even though the film hardly seems to care about the mystery itself. And with Ray Wise playing a character who’s introduced midway, it had to be Van Patterson running the whole thing from behind the scenes. Of course, June is the one who’s aiding him—because they’re lovers, and Patterson is planning to kill his wife. But he also wants to inherit his wife’s almond farm. Well, the guy loves his almonds a bit too much—why else would he run an elaborate water-stealing scheme with real-estate as the perfect font? Obviously, the villain has to get caught in a film like this, and Poolman tries to pull that off by adding another twist: Wayne is actually an undercover FBI agent. His thing with Susan is real, though, as is his friendship with Darren and everyone else. Gotta give it to Pine for keeping things wholesome! 


Poolman ends mostly like how it started. The characters and their lives mostly remain the same. Well, a little better, to be fair, considering Darren now has more clarity about what he wants to do with his life. Just like most things in the movie, the scene of DeVito and Benning’s characters happily swimming in the pool seems quite extra, and I don’t think we should try making any sense out of that! 

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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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