The Technician (US), September 12, 2000
'Watch' Keanu act!
by Joel Frady
North Carolina State University
(U-WIRE) RALEIGH, N.C. -- "The Watcher" is the best looking thriller since "Seven." From beginning to end, there is a dark feel this film captures through its excellent cinematography, great music score, soundtrack and a strong performance from Keanu Reeves. On the other hand, the film does give in to many clichés and the ending is abrupt and matters are left unresolved.
The film follows Joel Campbell (James Spader, who cast this guy?) through his daily rituals of visiting his psychiatrist Polly (Marisa Tomei, "My Cousin Vinny") and taking the many drugs he's prescribed. In his meetings with Polly he talks about the serial killer whose case he was assigned (Keanu Reeves), whom he moved 2,000 miles to get away from and still can't forget about.
From here the major plot points are clockwork: the killer (who is also obsessed with Campbell) finds our hero, contacts him and the killings begin again as this game of cat & mouse reassumes. Of the three leads, the man known simply as "Keanu" is the standout: he doesn't play the role evil or dark, as most serial killers are, but instead creates a very likeable and charming killer. When he smiles at another character, it's both comforting and alarming at the exact same time: he's the kind of serial killer that could woo his prey to the last minute and they wouldn't have any notion of it until the moment before it happens. Many people said that they didn't think Keanu could pull off this role, but he proved them wrong on most points.
What these people didn't mention was how bad James Spader is. Playing the hero here, he is a thoroughly un-likeable mess of a person and the audience really didn't care what happened to him. As the credits rolled, someone in the theatre commented, "The main guy was such an a-s that I was pulling for the bad guy throughout the movie." Not many people pull for the bad guy in a serial killer film.
The film's other hero is Michael Chapman, the Director of Photography (whose other credits include "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "The Fugitive"). He uses a combination of slow-shutter effects, negatives and lighting that is dimmed just the right amount. Take for instance one of the films murder scenes: the film avoids being over-graphic with them (a mistake most thrillers make) and instead gets some great visuals. Instead of a disgusting shot of a neck being sliced, the audience is shown two shadows from across the room and they seem to be dancing instead of struggling.
For the film's director, first-timer Joe Charbanic, this is a promising sign. With the exception of Spader, he put together a cast and crew and hit most of the right notes. He may have chosen to go the Hollywood route a few times (there is one big explosion that is preposterous, but it does follow one of the best car chases seen in recent years) but he otherwise has a film with a very unique style. Look for great films from this man in years to come.
If looking for a good thriller or a fun villain, "The Watcher" is highly recommended. It's nothing totally new or original, but for what it is it's a great thrill and Keanu Reeves, for the first time ever, didn't have quite enough time on the screen. Spader may be a bad actor who screws up left and right here, but he's forgettable and relatively easy to ignore.