The Watcher

Directed by Joe Charbanic
Starring: James Spader, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, Chris Ellis, Ernie Hudson.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
September 10, 2000

Another film has come along that tries to be good in spite of casting Keanu Reeves in a major role. It almost does the job, even with a first-time director, but our little surfer dude insists on getting in the way.

The real star of The Watcher is James Spader, who plays former FBI agent Jack Campbell. A failed opportunity to catch a serial killer (Keanu Reeves) while in Los Angeles caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown, get prescribed all sorts of medication, and finally move to Chicago to spend his remaining days living on disability. That is, until the killer tracks him down and starts a new spree in the Windy City.

Jack receives a picture of a girl and a phone call from the killer saying that he has until 9:00pm to find the girl and prevent her murder. Jack returns to active duty in Chicago's division to help the Feds (led by Ernie Hudson) and the local police (led by Chris Ellis) find the girl and the killer.

Surprisingly, director Joe Charbanic, who seems to come out of nowhere, creates a good deal of suspense in The Watcher. The race against the clock to find a girl works as a simple device, not just once, but twice in the picture. Then the killer goes after Jack's psychiatrist (Marisa Tomei) to have a slightly different third act (I'm sorry if that seems like a spoiler, but if you don't see that coming, this must be the first film you've ever seen).

I was happy to see Spader in an interesting situation, especially after that horrible atrocity called Supernova. He's a great talent that is sadly underused. Unfortunately, Reeves is a sad talent that is greatly overused. His killer is never believable, and ruins an otherwise interesting suspense film.

I was actually expecting Reeves part to be much smaller, given his "and" credit instead of a co-billing with Spader. Indeed, I was hoping it wouldn't go beyond what they showed in the trailer (which had a lot of Reeves and Tomei, and precious little Spader). As cynical as I may be, I can't believe that the intention of this billing was to trick anti-Keanu filmgoers into thinking that he merely had a walk-on part. That would be giving the studio far too much credit.

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The Watcher (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan