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5 Great (Mostly) Forgotten Films of Robin Williams

A prolific entertainer, Robin Williams was one of those rare talents that found a home in comedy and drama, television and movies, and nearly everything in-between. Like the metaphorical chameleon, he transformed himself in many of his films, creating characters that have long become iconic. His hyper comedic style was the yin to his carefully measured, emotionally-affecting dramatic yang. While he starred in numerous Box Office hits, many films did not reach the audience they should have. Here are 5 great (nearly) forgotten films with Robin Williams.


The Final Cut (2004)

Robin Williams
Robin Williams (The Final Cut, 2004)

In a near-future world, Alan Hakman (Robin Williams) lives in a time when babies are implanted with chips called a ‘Zoe’ that record their live’s memories and then are played at their funerals. Alan is a ‘cutter’ (video editor), who produces the edited films, interviewing families and getting an idea for what would be an appropriate memorial movie. Because nobody wants the bad memories of their loved ones to be revealed, Hakman becomes cynical, a megalomaniac infused with what he sees at great power. As such, he becomes the well-known cutter in the business, and one many lowlifes use to edit memories. When a chip surfaces that reveals a secret from his own past, he faces a frightening reality. Meanwhile, a rebellious group, led by James Caviezel are trying to boycott the Zoe chips and a confrontation grows imminent.

Directed by Omar Naim, The Final Cut is a clever thriller that succeeds entirely because of Williams. Living up to the sad man hiding in a clown, Williams was adept at bringing serious, often troubling characters to life with startling effectiveness, and while audiences mostly wanted him to make them laugh, his greatest work has always been in drama. Here, he is chilling and unnerving. A must see performance.

Being Human (1994)

Robin Williams
Robin Williams (Being Human, 1994)

Williams plays Hector, a man whose soul passes through time inside five ordinary men in history. Beginning with early Man, he is the father of a small family, living in caves who loses his wife when marauders attack and steal her when he doesn’t act. He is then a slave in Ancient Rome, whose master owes a great debt but is foolish and incompetent. Next, he is a Scottish Crusader on his way home to his family, but falls in love with a woman along the way. After this, he is Portuguese nobleman, shipwrecked with many people on island off the coast of Africa, unable to keep his lover. And lastly, in modern times, he is dealing with a failed marriage and the children he so desperately wants to love him.

Directed by Bill Forsyth, the film was critically panned, and edited by the studio, prompting Forsyth to disown the project. And while the film has faults, such as studio-added narration and a tacked on ‘happy’ ending, the journey Williams takes us on is truly compelling. As characters from all lives interconnect, there is a quiet, lingering sorrow to Hector that feels very authentic. It’s a deeply personal and touching performance.

Cadillac Man (1990)

Robin Williams
Tim Robbins, Robin Williams (Cadillac man, 1990)

Williams plays Joey O’Brien, a slimy car salesman in Queens with a lot on his plate. His ex-wife (Pamela Reed) is demanding more alimony and their daughter has gone missing, his married mistress (Fran Drescher) and his single girlfriend (Lori Petty) are hopelessly attracted and won’t let him breathe, he’s got to sell 12 cars in two days or lose his job and if doesn’t pay off the loan he made with a mob boss, he’s gonna get rubbed out. In walks Larry (Tim Robbins) with an AK-47 claiming his sexy wife (Annabella Sciorra), who works at the dealership, is having an affair.

Directed by Roger Donaldson, this epic comedy is fast-paced and darkly satirical, and while it missed the mark with audiences who were expecting more light-hearted fare from Williams, it deserves a second look. Williams, who always seemed as if he was a few degrees from exploding, is effortlessly good here, spinning plates in every corner as he wheels and deals his way out of every mess he is in. Watch this movie.

The Night Listener (2006)

Robin Williams
Robin Williams (The Night Listener, 2006)

Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a gay radio host of a popular show called Noone at Night. His boyfriend recently left him, wanting more space, but worse, he’s given a manuscript about a 14-year boy’s sexual abuse by his parents, forcing him to live in the basement. That boy, named Pete, (Rory Caulkin) begins calling into the show and a friendship begins, but based on voices alone, is one made tenuous at best. The child’s adopted mother Donna, played by Toni Collette, is also the social worker, and when Noone’s ex Jess (Bobby Cannavale) becomes convinced the Donna and Pete are actually the same person, things really begin to spiral out of control.

Directed by Patrick Stettner, The Night Listener is a chilling drama that might not always work, but Williams is at his dramatic best, in a role that certainly isn’t intended for mainstream audiences, but is nonetheless truly great. Subdued and complex, Noone is a fascinating character that allows Williams to explore placess he’s never been before. It’s a marvel to watch.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

Robin Williams
Robin Williams (Moscow on the Hudson, 1984)

Williams plays Vladimir Ivanoff, a saxophonist for a Russian circus who defects in a New York department store when the show tours the United States. He falls for a woman named Lucia (Maria Conchita Alonso) who works at the store and tries to figure out how to make a life in a world so different from own. Ostensibly a comedy, it is rather a dramatic tale of the human condition, perfectly cast with Williams so effortlessly convincing as a Russian, you forget who you’re watching. 

Directed by Paul Mazursky, Moscow on the Hudson starts in Russian and features Williams speaking Russian for the first third of the story. It would be easy to dismiss this, given the nature of the film and the star behind it, but it’s no different that Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, for example. Williams is so natural in his performance, its rattling. Funny, emotional, and inspiring, this performance has sadly been lost in the shadow of his more commercial work. If you have not heard of or seen this movie, find it now.

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One Response

  1. Robert Simmons April 16, 2016