When I was a child the word was “mad”. I get mad. You get mad.
Later I decided I was mis-using “mad” because there was a better word: “anger”. It’s a subtler thing, a more adult thing, or so my seven-year old self must have thought. Mad is this other thing, because mad is crazy, mad is insane, mad is put-him-in-a-straitjacket. Angry, on the other hand? It’s something you choose. You make me angry. Ah so it’s not even my fault, or so I thought as a child.
Of course I’ve changed my tune at least a few times since then, even before I saw The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014), tonight’s occasion to contemplate the nature of anger.
Robin Williams plays Henry Altmann, the aforementioned angriest man. It must be hard being trapped in a stereotype, even harder when you have multiple stereotypes. This is not the frenetic comedian we first encounter early in Williams’ career (as in Mork and Mindy or Good Morning Viet Nam), nor the over-the-top cartoon voice Williams (as in Aladdin or Happy Feet) but spiritual break-through Williams, as in Dead Poets Society, Hook, Fisher King, or Good Will Hunting (and there are plenty more I could name). In fairness, Williams is a chameleon of huge range, who likely has added life & legs to any script he’s ever seen. He could play all the parts if they’d let him.
And he’s remarkable, when angry. Anger is the river that runs through this film, erupting from the circumstances of the story, and Williams’ Altmann could be Huck Finn, given his eagerness to pole his way down the angry river. Williams is physically in the film, and he also narrates what’s inside his head, so we have his emotions framed for us.
There’s another parallel tale, of Doctor Sheila Gill, Altmann’s doctor played by Mila Kunis, and also having her own nutty voyage complete with pills, rages, a dead pet and yes, also narrating her story from her own side.
Speaking as someone who sees anger as madness and something to be overcome, I enjoyed the ride through this film, an amusing study in emotions and miscommunication. This is the most believable Williams portrayal I’ve seen in a long time, possibly because he’s no longer the big star terrorizing directors, possibly because he’s older and wiser. I am afraid of older Hollywood actors who bray at the camera like a cautionary tale about too much cocaine and not enough directorial restraint (are you listening, Al?)
At times this is a slow, ponderous film, yet in many places it’s delightful, unpredictable, and genuinely deep. I can’t help noticing that the director is Phil Alden Robinson, a man who’s directed fewer than ten films in the past 25 years, including Field of Dreams, one of my absolute favourites.
Yes Field of Dreams can be glacial at times, yet ultimately rewarding. It also includes a marvellous performance from James Earl Jones, who is one of the best things about The Angriest Man in Brooklyn.
Will you like the film? I don’t know. It may have too much content, too much philosophy, and not enough comedy or drama. At times it’s like a parable, but tonight this is precisely what i needed. I’ve had more than enough anger lately.
Let me close with a series of quotes I found on the internet concerning anger. Just google “quotes anger” and you’ll find zillions more. These are my favourites. I think you’ll have to decide for yourself whether anger is something you can work with or not.
Anger is a momentary madness
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
Anger is acid that does more harm to the vessel in which it is kept than to anything onto which it is poured.
- Achebe: An angry man is always a stupid man.
- And someone I can’t identify said:
Anger is like a poison you take, expecting someone else to die.