ONE of the most haunting performances by any actor in recent times was the part of Walter Finch played by Robin Williams in the 2002 film Insomnia.
Finch was a calculating, cold-blooded murderer who tormented his pursuer, a law enforcement officer from Los Angeles, Will Dormer, who was played by Al Pacino. Pacino’s character was burdened by his own guilt and outwitted by Finch. He was also suffering from insomnia having to work in a small town in Alaska where the sun is up at all times during summer.
Williams was never scarier on screen. He seldom chose to play such roles, but when he did, he was eerily real and maniacally convincing.
“Real loss is only possible when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself,”
In one scene, he looked at Dormer in the eyes, reminding him: “You and I share a dark secret. We know how easy it is to kill someone.” Dormer was fighting his own demon after he accidentally shot his partner, Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) while chasing Finch.
Many would disagree with me, but Williams’ Finch was one of his best works on film. Williams was that and more — playing a variety of roles almost effortlessly in more than 80 movies since 1977 with two more to be released posthumously.
One can see him meandering between serious stuff and comic relief — a cool dude in one film, a dangerous pervert in the next or a hilarious person in another.
He brought variations to the roles — mostly enriching it, reminding us of his genius and his extraordinary talent. We can’t forget his breakthrough role as radio DJ Cronauer and his trade mark call, “Good Morning, Vietnam!” in the midst of the Indo-Chinese War. Awakenings (1990) was a film that tested our patience and Williams’ own capability, which he passed with flying colours. The character in Mrs Doubtfire (1993) is undoubtedly a tough role, but Williams did the cross-gender transformation with style and finesse.
Good Will Hunting (1997) is almost perfect, a feel-good movie that harps upon its young actors (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Minnie Driver) to bring it to a cult status. But it was the character that he played, Sean Maguire, which he carried with tenderness and sensibility, that won the day. It was a marvelous performance.
In Good Will Hunting, Williams wasn’t reprising his role as an unconventional teacher, John Keating, in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. Keating rewrites the rules of teacher-student engagement in a conservative and aristocratic college, while Maguire is a therapist with a mission.
It was the same unconventional approach that Dr Hunter “Patch” Adams brought to the mental institution. Williams’ character in Patch Adams(1998) captured the confrontation with the medical school, in fact, the medical profession as the whole. He believes in bonding with his patients, giving them the rights and dignity even knowing they are not normal.
We have seen Williams in many capacities on film — some even least remembered, others not so successful commercially and critically. Even in films like Cadillac Man (1990), Hook (1991), Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage(1996), Jack (1996) or Jakob the Liar (1999), he is still watchable even if the films were less than satisfactory.
He entered our consciousness in 1978 when Mork landed into one of the episodes of a hit TV series, Happy Days. Mork, the alien from Planet Ork was a hit, startling audiences watching Fonz (Henry Winkler) and Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard). A new series was created that year, Mork and Mindy, where for 92 hilarious and engaging episodes, Mork and Mindy (played by Pam Dawber) ruled the TV sphere. Who would ever forget Mork’s signature cry, “nanu nanu!”.
It was a sitcom that changed TV. That was also the year that Dallas came into being, another unforgettable TV experience, a soap opera about a wealthy, feuding Texan family. Mork and Mindy, of course, was in a different realm — without the cliff-hanger and the who-done-it suspense. But Williams saw the sitcom through as an alternative to a popular story about a scheming oil family.
He was always a TV person, some would argue. He was, in fact, made for TV. Williams made waves on TV, initially, as a stand-up comedian and his outrageous improvisations. The comic in him brought laughter and happiness to millions in a career that spanned almost four decades.
Little did we know behind the ever smiling public persona, away from the glare of publicity, he was battling his own demons in a form of depression. His untimely and unceremonious death reminds us of some of the characters that he played – vulnerable, sad, even tortured. Not unlike Finch in Insomnia, he had a dark secret.
“Real loss is only possible when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself,” said his character in Good Will Hunting.We will always remember him for that. JOHAN JAAFFAR ZULU.JJ@YAHOO.COM TWITTER @JOHAN_JAAFFAR - NST Columnist 23 AUGUST 2014 @ 8:05 AM