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Watching The Watcher
on 18 July 2008
I came to The Watcher with relatively low expectations having never heard of the film before. The cheap price and other reviews tempted me and I'm grateful they did for, while The Watcher is a film with a number of flaws, it does have two significant redeeming qualities; James Spader's central performance and the unpretentious aspirations of the plot.
Spader plays Joel Campbell, a detective who has become central to a serial killer's theatre of cruelty and is paying the emotional and physical price for this unwanted attention. Instead of the cliched narrative of a maverick cop who insists on taking the case despite his flaws Campbell is aware of the liability he has become and hides away like a wounded dog. He has not totally given up hope, however, and reaches out for healing with a psychiatrist played by Marisa Tomei. Unfortunately it is the killer who finally drags an unwilling Campbell out of his twilight world and the suspense escalates around the identity, not of the killer, but of his victims and whether the fragile Campbell can excise the literal and psychological demons from his life.
There are problems with this film, notable the supporting cast have underwritten roles which cannot be resurrected from the forgetable. Marisa Tomei, while likeable, is a fleeting presence and Keanu Reeves does not convince as a serial killer. Only the script's construction of his character's ruthlessness allows the audience to suspend belief to the extent of 'buying' him as a worthy adversary to Campbell. They finally come together in a needlessly rushed climax which falls back on the worst conventions of movie law via a number of lazy plot flaws and continuity errors. It is a testament to Spader's efforts that the audience is sufficiently invested in Campbell to forgive these distractions and crave a satisfactory conclusion to the character's story. This is the key dicotomy of The Watcher - its worth seeing for Spader's outstanding and compelling performance which is delivered, however, within the context of a production that is not really worthy of his contribution. Recommended, therefore, but with reservations, this is a movie that deserves to be better known.