Please note: There are spoilers below.
While Jack Nicholson has become infamous for his role in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Shining, Robin Williams was at one time considered. While that might seem odd, Kubrick said he later reconsidered seeking Williams because he deemed Williams would be too psychotic for the role.
While many actors love playing the villain, sometimes they go too overboard with it. Williams was also considered at one time to play The Joker in the 1989 Batman as well as The Riddler. His role as a mad bomber in The Station Agent is a nice change of pace. He’s played serious roles a lot, but there’s always the feeling that he’s still Robin Williams.
I’m no fan of Patch Adams and What Dreams May Come had a good idea. Bicentennial Man was too hokey, but not as awful as Patch Adams. It was his more somber roles as the very shy, but brilliant Dr. Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings and his Oscar-winning role as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting that proved he was able to escape into his roles if the material was good and a good director knew how to work with him.
In 2002, he appeared in two roles that proved The Julliard-trained actor wasn’t just some hyperactive guy making silly and sometimes vulgar puns to an audience. The first was his role as a killer in Insomnia, directed by Christopher Nolan based on the Norwegian movie of the same name. Williams plays Walter Finch, a hack mystery writer living in Alaska, who killed a high school girl he was having a close relationship with.
Initially, Walter claims to have only been involved with the girl, Kay Connell (Crystal Lowe) because she was an aspiring writer and he was “mentoring” her. Obviously, a middle-aged man mentoring a young teenage girl, even if she was 18, doesn’t seem logical. He’s not a teacher and you get the sense that Walter, who is single, might have been wanting a lot more in the end.
Walter is being track by Will Dormer (Al Pacino in one of his underrated best roles), a LAPD homicide detective whose former colleague, Chief Charlie Nyback (Paul Dooley) has retired to his Alaskan native home where he is now over the Nightmute Police Department. Will and his younger partner Det. Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) have come to help the local police. When they attempt to ambush the killer at the scene of the crime, feedback on a bullhorn gives them away. In the deep fog, Will shoots Hap thinking he is the killer. Hap dies, but not before telling Will the day earlier he was going to work with Internal Affairs into an investigation into past homicide cases including ones on which Will has worked.
So, with Hap dead and investigators already aware of his involvement, it might look like Will shot Hap as a cover-up, especially since he shot Will with his Walther .380 caliber semi-automatic back-up service weapon. Will has access to a .38 caliber revolver Walter dropped at the scene and devises a plan to switch the rounds and frame Walter, after receiving a call from him.
Here’s where normal thrillers would’ve relied on similar formulas by making Walter very charismatic and arrogant. But that’s not the case, when Will breaks into Walter’s apartment in nearby Umkumiut to plant the revolver, Walter arrives and a foot chase ensues with Will falling in the waterway where logs are being moved. Walter gets away and calls Will at his apartment. Walter seems more concerned for Will’s well-being and ask him to please feed his dogs.
The two later meet on a ferry where they discuss the matter further. Walter tells Will he beat Kay by accident when she started laughing at him when she refused his advances. Is Walter a pedophile or sleazy creep? I believe Walter has a more checkered history than what he tells Will. He secretly tapes the conversation with Will which hints he’s had a previous issue with his words being used against him.
Rachel Clement (Maura Tierney), the clerk at the hotel Will is staying, later tells him that people move to Alaska to escape, which is what she did. This revelation by a supporting character gives more of a backstory to Walter because Will notices in the author bio on his published books Walter also moved to Alaska. Walter lives along with two dogs but also has a lake house which indicates he’s probably made some good money off his writings. Was Walter married at one time or have kids? The movie never really says but I get the feeling he moved to Alaska after a failed relationship or quite possibly because of inappropriate behavior with another young woman.
It’s later during an interview scene, Walter plays up the arrogance and cocky because he’s planted the .38 revolver Will planted in the residence of Randy Stetz (Jonathan Jackson), Kay’s abusive toxic boyfriend. With one murder and framing another, Will knows that Walter know has developed a taste for it. When Nightmute Det. Ellie Burr (Hillary Swank) goes to Walter’s lake house, Will knows he’ll use the reclusive area to murder her. Kay wasn’t Walter’s first victim. She was just the first one that died at his hands.
Nolan, Pacino, Williams, Swank and the rest of the cast and crew gave this a different style of thriller than what Hollywood was churning out at the time. The other movie Williams was in was One Hour Photo. I remember reading about this around the end of 2000 or the earlier part of 2001 as an upcoming movie. I don’t know why it was delayed for a year but it might have had something to do with the aftermath of 9/11.
In One Hour Photo, Williams play Seymour “Sy” Parrish, a middle-aged man who is the manager of the photo lab at the fictional SavMart, a retail department store based on Target and Wal-Mart. With his hair bleached blonde, Williams portrays Sy as a different Peter Pan. He grew up but he never gain a full way to live as an adult. There’s a childish innocence in him. Normally, someone like Sy would be living with a parent, but there’s an emptiness here.
At the SavMart, Sy has become friendly with a local family, the Yorkins played by Martin Vartan as Will, the father, Connie Nielsen as Nina, his wife, and Dylan Smith as Jake, their young son. Sy has also become obsessed with their photos and has been secretly making duplicates for himself which he tapes to the wall of his apartment’s living room. Sy is more friendly with Nina and Jake, even giving him a free deposable camera for his birthday.
But Sy has mistaken Nina’s pleasant behavior for something closer. It’s an odd twist in which a service workers mistakes a customer’s attitude for something more. When he speaks with Jake at one time in the store in the presence of his father, Will later gets on to Jake for “taking to strangers.” Later, Sy shows up to Jake at the park and has bought him a toy Jake showed interest in. But Jake doesn’t accept it, knowing it’s not right.
Why is Sy so interested in the Yorkins? It’s revealed later in the movie, or more hinted at, that Sy was the victim of child pornography by a father or fatherly figure. Nothing was ever done or his attacker got a light sentence and it’s scarred Sy well into his adult life. Sy is more sympathetic than Walter but far more dangerous and disturbing.
Sy is not able to distinguish realty from make-believe. In one scene, he imagines himself inside the Yorkins’ household or is he there? Director Mark Romanek, who also wrote the script, films these scenes with an uncomfortable feeling. In another part of the movie, Sy has followed Nina to a shopping mall and keeping his distance until she spots him at the the food court. Sy has purchased the same book he observes Nina having to make it look they they have something more in common. The whole thing is just creepy and the way it’s pulled off is great.
Eventually, Sy is fired by the manager Bill Owens (Gary Cole) over discrepancies with the duplicate copies he made. Sy had also had a shouting match with an maintenance technician in front of customers and the free disposable camera which has led to his termination. Not being able to process the Yorkins photos sets him off, even worse as he discovers Will had an extramarital affair with a co-worker, Maya Burson (Erin Daniels).
When Sy puts a nude photo of Will and Maya together in some other photos Nina picks up, he expects something to happen, but observes that Nina does nothing. Later, he follows Will and Maya to a hotel where he harasses them with a hunting knife he took from SavMart before leaving and forcing them to perform sex acts while he takes pictures. When he is finally arrested by the police, Det James Van Der Zee (Eriq LaSalle) gives him the photos from the roll and it’s only of items Sy took of a hotel room he got in the same place. implying there was no film in the camera when he was in the room with Will and Maya.
The interesting thing about both Walter and Sy is they commit acts they know they will get them arrested sooner than later. How long would the police wait until Det. Burr doesn’t come back to the station and they can’t reach her, will more law officers arrive at Walter’s lake house? Sy takes photos of Bill’s daughter out playing and gets them processed at SavMart knowing the other technician will notify Bill, who will call police. Neither Walter and Sy are mastermind criminals. They’re both just men who on the verge of snapping and needed a trigger.
This is what makes them more three-dimensional. They are human. They’re not Bond villains out to destroy a fourth of the world. They go about their daily lives, interacting with others. You might carry on a normal conversation with them many times but never know what dark secrets they might have.
Williams never made similar movies to this before he died in 2014. I don’t think he would’ve been able to top this. Despite all the criticism, he really made people see what Kubrick saw many years earlier.
What do you think? Please comment.