The Watcher (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 8 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 does it look?

“The Watcher” was the very first movie I watched (pardon the pun) on my new widescreen TV way back in early 2001. I remember the stylized opening credits and was getting used to seeing how a movie looked on my home theater. Several years have passed and now I have the HD DVD version to peruse on my even newer (and, of course, better) HDTV. The 1.85:1 VC-1 HD transfer is, for the most part, very good. Several scenes really pop and have a geunine 3-D effect that just seems to scream “High Def”. There are a few shots in the movie that leave a little to be desired, showing some grain and a bit of artifacting. Thankfully those shots are few and far between. The movie isn’t that old, seven years as of this writing, so it’s pretty much expected that the movie should look at least above average. It does and Universal continues their fine efforts with another decent catalog title.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track is a fairly good effort, but it’s not much of an upgrade over the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that was housed on the standard DVD track. Dialogue is nice and natural, though James Spader tends to be somewhat of a low talker – I don’t fault the audio for that. The general ambiance of the film is fairly low key, but there are a few scenes that really make use of the surround sound. Yes, cars do blow up and gunshots are fired, but to call this an outstanding mix is a bit of a longshot. While there’s nothing that really makes this stand out as a great-sounding mix, there’s nothing particularily bad about it either.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I hope you like the movie, because that’s all you get. Even the original theatrical trailer, cast bios and the DVD-ROM content have been pushed off this HD DVD release. While the increase in video quality is noticeable, the lack of supplements might nullify a purchase, even for true fans of this movie.

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