In the wake of Academy Award-winning American actor Robin Williams’ tragic and untimely death last month, it was arguably the work outside of his zany and larger-than-life persona that fans responded to most whilst playing tribute to the man. Like those films, Phil Alden Robinson’s adaptation of little-known Israeli film The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum (1997), now entitled The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014) sees the late comedian once again playing against type, this time as the embittered character of the title. However, for all of Williams’ best efforts, it’s a film which is sadly destined to sit with those below-par efforts which have become increasing conspicuous towards the latter part of his career.
The lives of two seemingly disparate characters collide one day during a hospital appointment when it’s revealed to Henry Altmann (Williams) that he has an inoperable brain aneurysm. A perpetually cranky and aggressive type, Altmann winds up his harassed and exhausted physician (Mila Kunis) to the point where she accidentally misinforms him that he only has 90 minutes to live. With that ridiculously condensed lifeline, Altmann hurriedly attempts to right any wrongs in his life and make peace with his estranged friends and family, while his doctor attempts to track down her increasingly despairing patient and inform him of the mistake before he takes drastic action. What could have been a complex and layered character (our protagonist is nursing a profound recent tragedy) is instead given broad brushstrokes.
With his first feature in twelve years, made with all the depth and visual panache of a bog-standard TV movie, Robinson is unable to rein in his lead and draw out the kind of nuance the role requires. It’s a one- note performance and it isn’t difficult to guess Altmann’s trajectory from the very moment he’s introduced on screen, ranting and raving in his car. A strong supporting cast (including Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage and Melissa Leo) are also painfully underutilised and the third person voiceovers Williams and Kunis are required to narrate offer little dimension to their characters and feel frustratingly superfluous. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn also offers some uncomfortable if unforeseeable real-life comparisons (Altmann’s clumsy suicide attempt) and given the distributor’s insistence on releasing the film so close to Williams’ death, this seems a little misjudged and distasteful. Williams has a strong body of work which easily renders the lesser work redundant, so here’s hoping one of the forthcoming posthumous titles offer a more fitting swansong than this.