A film star will never make only great films. That is a given, and it's also one of the consequences of stardom and career management in an industry as dependent on perception and typecasting as Hollywood is. For some reason, the late Robin Williams, one of the most impressive and challenging American stand-up comedians, tended to be typecast in redemptive, saccharine roles that muzzled his quasi-anarchic, free-form comedic talent and underused his range; but when he was given free rein or cast against type in edgier works like Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King or Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo, you glimpsed another, more interesting actor exploring in a virtuoso way the darkness that underlies every comedian.
His last starring role to open publicly before his death, though barely released without much fanfare, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is an all-star dud that makes ill use of not just Mr. Williams' talents but also of a remarkable cast that includes the great Melissa Leo and Peter Dinklage and brief guest cameos from the likes of Louis CK or James Earl Jones. The problem with this remake of the little-known Israeli film The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum does not lie in the premise: sour, cranky Brooklyn curmudgeon Henry Altmann (Mr. Williams) is diagnosed with a life-threatening condition and decides to make up to his family and friends for his hurtful ways, only to find he may in fact be beyond forgiveness. The problem is that this well-meaning but cringe-inducing riff on A Christmas Carol, with Mr. Williams in the Scrooge role and Mila Kunis as the harried doctor who, flustered by his unpleasantness, blurts out he only has 90 minutes to live, never finds the correct tone to work as either black comedy or family drama.
Daniel Taplitz's sketchy, unfunny screenplay is signposted by any number of platitudes and mawkish twists that a "he said/she said" voiceover alternating the inner voices of Ms. Kunis and Mr. Williams only makes more banal. But what's most striking is how director Phil Alden Robinson, a screenwriter on his own and the man behind the well-remembered Field of Dreams, handles the whole thing: clumsily, desultorily, as if he was merely a hack-for-hire with no special attraction nor interest in the production. Even the actors seem to be in auto-pilot, seemingly in strictly for the paycheck or as a favour to somebody - and Mr. Williams himself is curiously subdued and one-dimensional in a role that seemed to call for his apoplectic fireworks. Everything in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn suggests a cast and crew going through the motions, unable to salvage an ill-advised enterprise but ploughing through it with whatever dignity they can muster - or whatever dignity the film allows it. And it adds one more film to the list of works that underused the many talents of a superb comedic actor.
THE ANGRIEST MAN IN BROOKLYN
USA, France 2013
Cast Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, Peter Dinklage, Melissa Leo
Director Phil Alden Robinson; screenwriter Daniel Taplitz; based on the film The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum written and directed by Assi Dayan; cinematographer John Bailey (colour); composer Mateo Messina; designer Inbal Weinberg; costumes Emma Potter; editor Mark Yoshikawa; producers Bob Cooper, Daniel J. Walker and Tyler Mitchell; production companies Landscape Entertainment, Films de Force Majeure and Prominent Media Group in association with MICA Entertainment and Vedette Finance
Screened October 5th 2014, Lisbon (DVD screener)