Films

Five criminally underseen Robin Williams performances

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Joe Ellison
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It's hard to believe that it's been two years to the day that we lost Robin Williams.

So many great films. So many iconic performances. So many reasons to rue his loss.

Naturally, you probably think of him in-drag as Doubtfire, the Arabian genie suspiciously literate in '90s pop culture in Aladdin, or, come to think of it, any classic of his pomp when remembering the great man.

But what about those lesser-known roles? The performances which, for whatever reason, never picked up the acclaim they should? Well you're in luck.

Here we salute the lesser-seen film roles of the like we'll never see again...

Popeye

Tanking at the box office and barely registering on radars today, Popeye is about as ‘cult’ as cartoonish films based on a fictional characters with a dependence on spinach can get. Stylistically, it’s everything that was wrong with camp early ‘80s cinema – crude sets, hammy acting - but in Williams, making his cinematic debut in the film as the sour-faced sailor man, the film has something truly original. The role is played with a verve and energy like nobody else could give.

Hamlet

Blink and you’ll miss him, keep your eyes peeled and, well, you might miss him anyway – Williams didn’t have much screen time for his role in Hamlet as Osric, the courtier sent by the King of Denmark to provoke Hamlet’s duel with Laertes; and he certainly wouldn’t have been the first actor many expected to pop up in the Kenneth Branagh adaptation, waggishly playing it for smirks alongside Branagh’s titular Prince. While his surprise casting did indeed bring some much needed levity to proceedings, counterbalancing the darkness surrounding Hamlet, it’s not long before the Osric himself feels cold steel through his gut, his smirk turning to shock capping a masterful cameo.

Awakenings

We never really hear about this film anymore, which is a massive shame as it truly is an inspiring watch. Williams stars as neurologist who attempts to engage with Robert De Niro’s catatonic patient, giving what could be his finest non-comedic performance ever and laying down the foundations for that equally sobering role in Good Will Hunting some seven years later. Ultimately thwarted in his attempts to get his patient back to a relatively normal state with the use of alternative drugs, there’s a real poignancy to his resignation of failure in the film’s final moments.

World's Greatest Dad

World’s Greatest Dad

From Hook to Mrs Doubtfire, Williams has given us a wealth of caring, overly affectionate cinematic super-dads, and this one certainly ranks alongside those. Albeit for very different reasons: when Williams’s unflappably polite single father struggles to connect with his porn-obsessed douchebag teenage son, something major happens - we won’t spoil it for you but it’s dark, very dark, even for a black comedy written by the howling lunatic from Police Academy (Bobcat Goldthwait). Dialling down the comedic tones to minimal, Williams’s melancholic performance is a masterwork.

The Night Listener

Sounds slightly like the Marvel superhero film that no one wanted, only it’s not – it’s actually a first-rate psychological thriller, which, unlike other recent Williams films in the same genre (One Hour PhotoInsomnia) is criminally overlooked. As is the actor’s performance, playing a gay radio talk show host who attempts to get to the bottom of a mystery after a listener gets in touch. Deciphering truth from lies in a frantic race against time, if it's the last Williams role you ever see, you won't be disappointed.

[Images: Youtube, Allstar]

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Joe Ellison

Joe is a writer and editor. Specialising in film, food, sport, current affairs, travel writing and adept at pilfering David Brent quotes, Joe describes himself as ‘basically a chilled out entertainer’. Follow Joe on Twitter: @Chevychased 

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