Robin Williams' most underrated roles

Robin Williams played the photo clerk in the thriller One Hour Photo. (QMI Agency Files)

Robin Williams played the photo clerk in the thriller One Hour Photo. (QMI Agency Files)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:57 PM ET

It was obvious early that Robin Williams would take the road less travelled in his movie career, even if he did play around with hit movie material such as Mrs. Doubtfire and the Disney animation Aladdin. His marginal films most illustrated the true artist within. Here are eight favourites among his “lesser” titles (in chronological order):

• The World According to Garp (1982): In only his second film since catapulting to TV stardom, Williams tackled the lead role in George Roy Hill’s problematic yet fascinating dramatic comedy. Based on the John Irving novel, this film revealed Williams’ penchant for illuminating the darkest and even the cruelest corners of humanity. All without surrendering the equal impulse to make it funny.

• Moscow on the Hudson (1984): Lighter than Garp but still with a serious undertow, Paul Mazursky’s dramatic comedy showcased Williams’ talent for voices and accents. He played a Soviet circus musician who seeks asylum in New York City after defecting during a tour. Today, the film also serves as an illustration of Cold War sensibilities.

• Awakenings (1990): Penny Marshall’s hugely under-appreciated drama featured Williams as a slightly fictionalized version of famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, who wrote the book which inspired the film. Williams was calm, professional, wonderful. Robert De Niro was equally engaging as a catatonic patient who is “awakened” through a new drug.

• The Fisher King (1991): Maverick filmmaker Terry Gilliam knew Williams from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and cast him here as a homeless man who engages with an emotionally distraught shock jock (Jeff Bridges). This film may be slightly bonkers but it is inspirational, too.

• What Dreams May Come (1998): Vincent Ward’s surreal fantasy will have even more of a haunting resonance now (although few people I know have ever seen this box office failure). Williams plays a man who, when killed in a car accident, devotes himself to manipulating his “reality” in the afterlife. But he also has to grapple with his grieving widow’s desire to commit suicide.

• Insomnia (2002): Christopher Nolan’s remake of a Norwegian murder thriller features Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and Williams in a triangle of terror, despair and revelation. Thus is a great film with three superb performances — and Williams should have earned his fifth Oscar nom for his bleak and beautiful Alaskan odyssey.

• One Hour Photo (2002): Like Nolan, director Mark Romanek mined Williams’ dark side for this utterly hypnotic psychological thriller. In an era before digital photography, Williams plays a photo store tech who becomes dangerously obsessed with processing one family’s snapshots.

• The Face of Love (2013): Filmmaker Arie Posin knew Williams still had his acting chops, and his pathos, when casting him as Annette Bening’s lovestruck neighbour. When a love relationship fails to ignite, and Bening’s character takes a drastic turn, Williams’ anguish turned heartbreaking.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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