|The Watcher (2000)
|Darcy Meyers, David Elliott and Clay Ayers
|James Spader, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, Ernie Hudson, Robert Cicchini, Yvonne Niami and Chris Ellis
“What I need…is you!” – Griffin
David Allen Griffin (Reeves) is a killer. He chooses a female victim, studies her and finally strikes when the time is right and administers a torturous death. FBI agent Joel Campbell (Spader) came the closest to catching him but at a price. Eventually Joel gave up, relocated to another city, Chicago, and is on disability leave. He’s in psychiatric therapy with Dr. Polly (Tomei), a pill popper and relies on injections to function normally. Joel soon realizes that Griffin has followed him to Chicago and now he sends Joel a picture of a would-be victim so as to give him a chance at saving them. Eventually Joel starts co-operating with the local PD to catch this serial killer once and for all.
There’s a novelty angle here in that the film tries to underscore the point of how invisible people are in this fast paced and uncaring world. Even modern technology (in 2000 at least) and extensive media cooperation can’t save the future victims of David despite him sending a picture of them a full 24 hours beforehand to Joel. Therein lies David’s fascination with Joel. David has made a friend of sorts in Joel and believes they need each other for their lives to have any meaning. It’s made pretty apparent that David’s resurgence in Joel’s life is what’s responsible for Joel’s resurrection of sorts as he’s hit a complete low after leaving his position and giving up on apprehending David. At one point during a session with Dr. Polly she asks Joel bluntly if he had started missing David before he re-entered his life in Chicago.
Lofty ideas and some social commentary may have been part of the aim in “The Watcher” but in the end this is pretty formulaic stuff. Joel is a fascinating character, though, and fairly well developed and Spader plays him to perfection. He is eccentric and Spader practically has a PHD in eccentric characters so this was a good casting choice. David is interesting but wholly underdeveloped and remains a complete mystery to the viewer. Reeves does a fine job but he’s saddled with some pretty bad dialogue on occasion and made to look a bit too cartoonish on occasions. Maybe the point was never to delve too deeply into David’s motivations or background so, in the end, this is all about Joel’s journey.
The rather-annoying and frenzied late 90´s-early 2000’s flashy editing (the one combining video with film and some kind of cinema verité style to look a bit more artful) certainly dates the film and this style has not aged well. When not focusing on those editing schemes the film is well lensed by Michael Chapman though.
Despite the film’s faults I do have a very soft spot for “The Watcher” and view it regularly. Formula movies resemble comfort food in a lot of ways and can be just the thing to close off an average day. It’s very predictable and doesn’t offer anything new to the Serial killer genre but it goes down well just the same. It’s well paced, has a few suspenseful set-pieces and a terrific car chase scene midway through. It’s not gory but it is fairly brutal.
Supporting players are decent as well. Tomei feels a little overqualified for the small role of Dr. Polly but she’s more than fine and Ellis is impressive as a Chicago Police detective. The relationship between Spader and fellow Chicago PD workers is blissfully free of stereotypical bantering and procedural matters are handled well.
“The Watcher” is no great shakes but gets more than a passing grade as a decent time killer on a slow night.