In the immediate wake of Field of Dreams Phil Alden Robinson‘s name was spoken in hushed tones. If you really let Dreams “in” (i.e., allowed it to slip past your crusty exterior) you probably developed a notion that it was more than just a movie. It was like Esalen therapy, a kind of spiritual bath. For baseball fans it was like attending church and hearing the greatest sermon of your life. And Robinson, who directed and wrote the screenplay (adapted from W.P. Kinsella‘s “Shoeless Joe“), was presumed to be some kind of pastor with a magic touch. Luck, timing, the hallucination stuff, Kevin Costner, chemistry, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta…who knows why or whether anything like Dreams could ever happen again? I only know that the ingredients and the servings (i.e., that nighttime shot of a long line of headlights at the finale) were just right.
But then luck seemed to slip Robinson’s grasp. In ’92 he delivered Sneakers, a half-decent caper flick, and then directed Freedom Song, a TV movie about the ’60s civil rights movement (co-written with Stanley Weiser) and was one of the directors of HBO’s Band of Brothers miniseries, and then directed Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman in The Sum of All Fears…God, what a comedown! The Field of Dreams spirit-soother directing a bullshit Jack Ryan movie about nuclear terrorism…yeesh!
And now he’s directed a Robin Williams film called The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (Lionsgate, 5.23), about a tempestuous older guy who freaks out when a young doctor (Mila Kunis) tells him, under duress and apparently feeling some rage herself, that he has a brain aneuryism and perhaps 90 minutes to live. (Which of course will turn out to be untrue in Act Three.) Obviously a silly plot device — a pitch that sounds half-amusing at first blush and then falls apart when you have to watch it unfold. Who could possibly believe that a doctor would tell a patient that he/she is dead meat out of pique or resentment or some dark fabrication impulse? No way in the world.
Right away you know this thing is toast, and that the legacy of poor Phil Alden Robinson is unchanged — i.e.,” a guy who got really lucky, once, with a one-of-a-kind spiritual baseball movie in the late ’80s, and then became a hit-and-miss director for hire.”
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn costars Peter Dinklage, Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater and Richard Kind.