The Watcher (Blu-ray)

September 2, 2014 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Joel Campbell (James Spader) has taken some time off from his police work, thanks to an elusive serial killer that drove him to the brink of insanity. Campbell moved to Chicago to escape the case, but has constant mental pain and personal trauma to remind him of what he went through back in Los Angeles. Now he takes all sorts of medications for all sorts of ailments, as well as his usual visits to his therapist, Polly (Marisa Tomei). Even with the killer in the distance, Campbell has trouble handling his life, which soon becomes even more troubled, once a rash of killings start in Chicago as well. The victims are all young women, strangled with piano wire and as Campbell knows, that fits his killer to perfection. But when Campbell learns he was sent photos of the victims, before they were killed, he knows the killer, David Allen Griffith (Keanu Reeves) has returned. Griffith then telephones Campbell, informs him that he will kill again and again, but he will send a photo of the victim, which gives Campbell and the police one day to find her and save her life. But even if Campbell can prevent the death of one of the girls, can he ever defeat Griffith and move ahead with what is left of his life?

I know serial killer thrillers are a dime a dozen, but I guess I am just a sucker for a mass murderer, as I end up watching all these kind of movies. Some are terrific, some are bad, but most of them fall within the range of tolerable to decent enough, which is where The Watcher ends up. I like certain elements in the movie a lot, but other scenes make me wonder what the crew was smoking on that day, which balances out the good parts. So this one could have been better, but it also could have been worse, so I am pleased to have a decent enough serial killer flick to check out here. I like the premise of The Watcher a lot and while the details sometimes become hard to swallow, I think the storyline plays out well enough, save a massive chase sequence that boggles the mind. But cheap chase aside, I found the back and forth of our leads to be solid, which is what makes the weak elements so frustrating, such as the deadpan deliveries of James Spader and Keanu Reeves. The two have a nice spark at times, but neither seems to be all that interested here, which results in below average turns. So is The Watcher a suspense classic? Of course not, but if you’re a fan of the serial killer thriller genre, then this one is well worth a rental.

I never would have guessed Keanu Reeves would be cast as a serial killer, unless slapstick comedy was involved, but here he is in The Watcher. Reeves does better than I expected, but since I didn’t think he’d even remember his lines, that isn’t saying much in the end. He stumbles over a lot of lines in tough places and often looks out of place, but Reeves does his best and in most instances, that is just enough to power the role. In laid back sequences, Reeves fares his usual average status, but when he is called on to work a little, he is unable to deliver, especially in the more tense moments, which lessens the mood more than a little. But Reeves can’t be blamed too much I suppose, as he does what he can and in the end, I think he was hired on for some name value. Other films with Reeves include The Replacements, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Point Break, The Devil’s Advocate, Chain Reaction, and The Matrix. The rest of the cast here includes James Spader (Supernova, Stargate), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, What Women Want), Chris Ellis (Armageddon, Apollo 13), Jenny McShane (Shark Attack, U.S. Seals), and Ernie Hudson (The Substitute, Ghostbusters).

Video: How’s it look?

I remember this movie for one reason and don’t ask me why, nearly 15 years later, it still resonates with me – this was the first movie that I watched on my then “new” HDTV (way back in early 2001). Until then I’d been watching/reviewing movies on my Sony 4:3 TV, so this literally made a lasting impression on me. Having said that, the film was one of the few released on the now defunct HD DVD format and it’s actually still a part of my collection. I compared that release with this new Blu-ray release and though this Blu-ray has a few improvements they’re by and large the same transfer.  The 1.85:1 AVC HD image does seem to have a bit more contrast than the previous VC-1 encode. This is a dark movie. Detail is about on par with the previous version though I seemed to see a bit more color saturation in this Blu-ray release.

Audio: How’s it sound?

No matter how many times I see Keanu Reeves in a movie, I always think back to Point Break and hear his immortal words “I.am.an.FBI.agent!” Sorry, sad but true. Having said that this DTS HD Master Audio is a noticeable improvement over the previous Dolby Digital Plus mix found on the HD DVD (and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix found on the standard DVD).  Vocals are crisp and rich, Spader’s deep voice is heard loud and clear. Ambient sound effects are sparse, but used effectively. The LFE have a few moments, but this is a pretty standard mix for the genre. A step up, for sure, but nothing that will rock the house.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The HD DVD had zero supplements and that trend has continued with this Blu-ray. Not even a trailer.

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