We all remember the deal with The Watcher, the Chicago-based thriller in which a serial killer sadistically plays cat-and-mouse with a burnt-out former F.B.I. agent heading the police effort trying to nab him. Years before the actual filming, its director, Joe Charbanic, who at the time made music videos, was a participant in a street hockey game. Another one of the players was Keanu Reeves. Charbanic pitched an idea for a film to Reeves, who agreed to appear in a cameo role to help get the film bankrolled. Reeves was being helpful—a good guy. With Reeves aboard, however, the studio went bonkers. What was to have been a little film got its budget expanded; the script was revised to make Reeves’s peripheral character a leading role. Reeves would play “the watcher”—the psychotic killer. Reeves balked and threatened to walk before shooting started, but lawyers, mindful of the recent 8-million-dollar judgment against Kim Basinger for bailing out of just such a verbal agreement, convinced him to stay onboard. Reeves worked for scale—what he would have received had his role remained a walk-on. Reeves did no publicity for the film.
In solidarity with Reeves, I was determined not to see The Watcher. A gift from a friend of the DVD, though, has changed that. I have now seen the film.
It’s a heart-pounding entertainment, too tricked-up with flashy camera effects and special effects and tricky, elaborate editing for my taste, but a good piece of work so long as it centers on the two guys at the center of the plot. James Spader is excellent as Joel, the haunted, taunted former F.B.I. agent. Keanu Reeves is brilliant as David, creating the most frighteningly depraved killer in all of cinema—a wickedly clever monster capable at moments of the most disarming charm. Ted Bundy must have been at the back of somebody’s head.
Psychologically, Joel is given much too much past; David, too little. Marisa Tomei as Joel’s analyst effortlessly projects the most monumental stupidity imaginable. Spader and Reeves lose themselves in their parts. Tomei has far less to lose but is capable of playing only herself.
So now I own a copy of something I vowed never to see. And once again I am in awe of Reeves’s staggering talent. And integrity. Reluctantly starring in this film and being paid hardly anything, he nevertheless devised a genuine performance. It redeems especially those who took advantage of him.
Regrettably, though, the thing “expands,” becoming grandiose. Despite the lead actors, the film is not a good one.