Retro Review: The Watcher

Written: September 11, 2000

Are the masses ready for another serial killer movie? Especially one starring Keanu Reeves.

“The Watcher” has your typical serial killer plot with a burnt out FBI profiler (James Spader) moving from LA to Chicago after one of his cases goes terribly wrong.

Unbeknownst to him, the serial killer (Keanu Reeves) responsible for all his pain follows him to the Windy City.

First off the saddest thing about “The Watcher” has to be the real lack of tension and surprises.

The film is basic and very tame compared to all the serial killer films before it. I truly believe this could have been a network TV movie of the week. The networks won’t have to edit this film to much for TV.

The second saddest thing has to be the film’s music. Who ever dreamed that these songs would add tension or atmosphere must have been mad.

The music makes some scenes almost like music videos or dance numbers. This does beg the question were the killings supposed to be dance numbers?

I have always liked Spader and how he has the knack to bring to life the most basic of scripts. This talent is evident in films such as “Bad Influence” and “Jack’s Back”.

I have always thought if he had a better agent he could have been a strong Hollywood leading man.

In “Watcher”, Spader delivers an engaging performance with the drugged and burned out profiler but the director never really gives him any charisma scenes to let his ability shine through. The scenes where he broods in front of the enlarged victim photos could have been some key moments for the film. Also when he is filled with pain during some of his flashbacks we really never see the worry or emotion Spader really needed there. But Spader is still the best element of this film.

As for Reeves, his performance gets better with time in the film but a lot of people in the audience are going to have problems with believing this type-casted good guy actually strangles women.

The reason for this is the film never shows Reeves actually strangling someone with psychotic eyes and enthusiasm even though he claims to be this mad killer.

Every time the scene approaches we are granted with a darkened silhouette coupled with some music this is an obvious attempt at suspense but really just bores us.

The third lead is Marisa Tomei who hasn’t been seen in a major film in a long time.

She plays Spader’s psychologist and I do believe that character was one of the main reasons why this film had no tension. This whole character really wasn’t necessary. All she really did was fill time and pull us away from the suspense.

I would have liked to have seen this film develop a new kind of angle on the whole serial killer cliché. Why not play up the beat the clock angles to the extreme and have the whole movie of Spader running around trying to save one victim.

(2 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: The Watcher

  1. Good review of The Watcher. I totally agree with your review. The music was definitely from the music video scene, but that is also where this first time director was from…he made music videos and both his direction and other choices reflect this pedigree. He did not do his actors nor the film any favors. James Spader was definitely the best part of this movie…too bad the villian and the hero could not have been twins separated at birth because then Spader could have played both roles. I always thought he would have made the better villian, but then again I also think he still would be the better damaged hero as well. I just don’t really see Keanu as either a villain or a deeply damaged hero…he just doesn’t have the chops for either of these types of characters. Keanu is handsome and he is charismatic, but he is fairly shallow when it comes to his thespian skills.

    As far as James Spader goes I believe he has one of the top agents in Hollywood and has for most of his career…Toni Howard. That being said I do believe that Spader has said that they let him do his own thing…he works only when he wants to (i.e. when he needs the money) or when something comes up that really interests him (i.e. strange and unusual roles). Perhaps he never wanted to be a strong leading man because that would have compromised his desire to lead a quiet and normal life. He has balanced starring in films with still keeping a low profile very well.

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