The Good, the Bad & the Badass: Robin Williams

Last week, we took a look at the career of newly reinvigorated action hero Wesley Snipes. This week's installment is far more tragic, as we remember an actor who no doubt, had a formative effect on many of us.

Robin Williams

News of Robin Williams' passing hit me like a ton of bricks. I was actually in the middle of a screening for LET'S BE COPS, when, during a quick run to the bathroom, I made the mistake of checking my phone and seeing a text from my father saying Williams had died. I was barely able to re-focus on the film afterwards, and the review I wrote no doubt suffered for it, as I was in a semi state-of-shock. I know, I know, I didn't know the man, except through the movies, but he was a big part of my childhood. I wore out my VHS copies of MRS. DOUBTFIRE and ALADDIN back then, and he always made me smile, and seemed like a nice guy to boot.

Thus, who else could I possibly write-up this week but Williams? Certainly, even if this tragedy hadn't occurred, Williams would have been a no-brainer for the column. His body of work is beyond reproach, and while some of his vehicles were stronger than others, for the most part he chose his parts well, and even if the movie was sub-par, he never was. From his early days on MORK & MINDY and his part in Robert Altman's POPEYE, to his inevitable breakthrough to superstar status with GOOD MORNING VIETNAM, through his more recent work on THE CRAZY ONES, Williams always gave it his all.

While known mostly for his comedies, while running through his filmography on the IMDB, it became clear that Williams was just as prolific in drama, and his best work usually married the two genres somewhat, although he could be extremely unsettling in darker fare like ONE HOUR PHOTO and INSOMNIA. Try as I might, I wasn't able to narrow down his work to a top five, so as I did for Clint Eastwood, Robin gets a top ten, which I hope will illustrate the man's talent and the great work he blessed us with through his thirty-five year career on the big screen.

His Best Performance

If you look at my top list below, any of the first six movies would have been a career best for anyone else. Truly, Williams' career was extraordinary. For absolute best performance, it comes down to two movies. One is THE FISHER KING. Of the “manic Williams” this is him at his best. Here he plays a guy driven mad by having watched his wife be killed in front of him, in a shooting his co-star, the shock jock played by Jeff Bridges, holds some responsibility for. Now totally unhinged, and obsessed with Authurian legends, he becomes a kind of homeless knight in New York City. It's a performance that's alternately charming, scary, heroic, hilarious, and always heartbreaking. It's a shame Williams and Terry Gilliam didn't do more together as he makes the ideal Gilliam protagonist (he did have a cameo in THE ZERO THEOREM though). “I like New York in June!!! How about you???”

The other “best” performance is Williams in GOOD WILL HUNTING. This was a huge departure for him, as he had to ditch the classic manic persona, and play a thoroughly depressed psychiatrist, who nonetheless is full of compassion, and manages to inspire and save Matt Damon's difficult Will Hunting, despite almost throttling him early on when Will tries to push his buttons (“I will end you!”). Williams is masterful in it, and his Oscar was well-deserved.

His Most Overrated Film

One movie of Williams' I was never a huge fan of was his smash hit adventure-comedy JUMANJI, even though I was exactly the right age to appreciate it when it came out (about thirteen years old). I dunno, maybe it was the fact that even in '95, the CGI looked really hokey (I can't imagine how dated it would look now), or that the mystical board-game story never really captured my imagination, but even during a period when I watched Williams' movies on a virtual VHS-loop, once was enough for JUMANJI, although I know many of you regard it as a classic. Truth be told, I'm not a huge HOOK fan either.

His Most Underrated Film

There are a few Robin Williams movies I'd call underrated. First and foremost is WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. I've never really understood why Vincent Ward's gorgeous fable about the afterlife never broke through, but I remember vividly seeing this on the big-screen, and being thoroughly engrossed by the gorgeous visuals and romantic story, which sees Robin's character journey from heaven to hell to rescue his wife. It's a beautiful film, and in his filmography, it stands out as a truly unique work.

The other is WORLD'S GREATEST DAD. Williams has never really been lucky with dark comedy, although when he goes full-on dark, audiences do seem to appreciate it. I guess they wanted him to go one way or another. Nevertheless, this and DEATH TO SMOOCHY give an interesting insight into Williams' more cynical take on comedy, and fame in general with both being the stories of two thoroughly flawed men who are put up on a pedestal they don't deserve. The fact that Bobcat Goldthwait's film didn't even get a full-on theatrical release is devastating, as Williams gave his best performance in years as a wannabe-writer who exploits his deplorable son's accidental death (by auto-erotic asphyxiation) as a way of somehow gaining the literary fame which has always eluded him. While most actors would have played the part as despicable, Williams' kinda made you love him. Maybe that's why it was such a flop? It deserved better.

His Most Memorable Scene

DEAD POETS SOCIETY is one of those movies I go back to again and again. Peter Weir had himself a stroke of genius when he decided to cast Williams as English teacher John Keating, and it's consistently cited as one of the most inspiring depictions of a teacher ever put on film. His first lecture, where he dazzles the students with impressions and humor, while encouraging them to tear a stale introduction out of their stodgy textbooks is a classic.

His Top-Ten Films


Up Next

Williams leaves behind four completed films: NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB, MERRY FRIGGIN' CHRISTMAS, ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING (where he voices a dog) and the intriguing sounding BOULEVARD, which was his long-awaited return to straight-drama. Rest in peace sir, and thanks for all the smiles. Oh captain, my captain!

Source: JoBlo.com



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