‘The Watcher’ review

ndsu spectrum: movie review

Director spices up serial killer trappings of ‘The Watcher’

Sept. 22, 2000


Ah, that staple of fall movies is here: the serial killer flick. The latest entry in the subgenre is “The Watcher,” and like many films of its type, it manages to be both stagnant and fascinating. Stagnant because there are no real revelations–the film’s mantra, and that of FBI agent Joel Campbell (James Spader), is that serial killers are never just waiting for you when you break down their door, you just have to be patient and hope you’re there when they mess up.

Yet its also fascinating because even though we’ve seen this all before (in the film’s preview, for that matter) director Joe Charbanic, spices things up with shaky, collage-like flashbacks, voice-overs (for which the gruff-voiced Spader is perfectly suited), and the occasional theater-rocking explosion amidst what is essentially a calm movie.

A few clever reversals of plot and character are thrown into the mix. Here, it’s the killer who’s obsessed with the agent, not the other way around. David Allen Griffin (Keanu Reeves) moves to Chicago to continue a cat-and-mouse game with Campbell, resuming his methodic killing of young loner girls by studying their daily routines then sneaking into their homes and strangling them with piano wire.

Spader is perfect as the haggard, overworked agent–the only time he takes a break is to inject himself with migraine medicine or to visit his psychiatrist (Marisa Tomei). By contrast, the casting of Reeves as the killer is certainly unconventional, but surprisingly, it works. Reeves is more interesting as a killer than he is as an action hero, perhaps because the idea of a good-looking, normal guy pursuing the most criminal of careers is so against the norm, at least in movies.

Written by Darcy Meyers and David Elliot, “The Watcher” is the perfect first film for Charbanic. The story is meaty enough that the artsy flashbacks become nice interludes between the “normal” scenes, but it’s also thin enough that you sort of welcome those flashy wake-up calls. Marco Beltrami does an outstanding job with the creepy/violent score, and there’s a nice selection of hard rock tunes to add flavor.

The use of cliches is crucial to “The Watcher’s” success because viewers familiar with the cat-and-mouse game between hero and villain will be able to get into the flow easily. But the film also has a few interesting twists. This is probably the first movie where fliers for missing persons are produced by the police before the person actually goes missing. Its interesting to note how in this age of the global marketplace, its so easy for a person to literally be “lost” amidst the throngs of people in a big city like Chicago. This might also be the first film where the police and the FBI cooperate with no more than a single utterance of complaint from the police.

Ultimately, “The Watcher” might not be too memorable, but along with a box of Sour Patch Kids and a small Sprite, it makes for a pleasant evening at the movies.

Title: “The Watcher”

Starring: James Spader, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, Ernie Hudson, Chris Ellis

Written by: Darcy Meyers, David Elliot

Director: Joe Charbanic

Grade: B+