Reviewed by Cez from Backlashcomix
I’m sure that this movie ranks highly amongst all De Niro fans for featuring his greatest performance to date. Only joking, but Hide and Seek isn’t an entirely awful film either, and in a way we do get two De Niros for the price of one. He plays widowed father David Callaway, who has decided to take his mentally disturbed daughter away for a spot of relocated quality time. Still traumatised after witnessing her mother lying dead in a bath, the girl is disenchanted to the extent that she even fails to show the slightest amusement at her dad’s dinnertime impression of a bullfrog. How could she?
Soon it becomes apparent that she’s met an invisible friend named Charlie, who’s acting as a bad influence on her, and Charlie holds David responsible for his wife’s death, intent on letting him know this by doing everything he can to ruin David’s life. Poor old De Niro, and things aren’t made any easier when almost everyone they meet appears to be a creepy paedophile holding a special glint in their eyes for his daughter.
Now, were this strictly a review of Hide and Seek, then I wouldn’t deliver any plot spoilers, however as this is predominantly in aide of cataloguing Robert De Niro performances throughout his career, I’ll tell you right now: David is Charlie. That’s right, David is actually suffering from multiple-personality disorder, rendering him as both the calm and mild-mannered father and also the murderous monster that’s secretly playing with his child, thus supplying us with a duel role for De Niro.
Of course, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll have worked out this “shock” ending within ten minutes of the film; it’s a gimmick used in so many productions over the years that you instantly start watching these types of movies expecting a big twist. Whether it’s the fact that a character never existed, the story was all a dream, the lead character is dead, etc. we can assume that the writer will be trying to pull the wool over our eyes and drop a bomb in the finale. In this case it’s a combination of the classic “two people are one” routine meets “the least likely suspect is guilty” rule. But that in itself is not a fault, we’ve all seen card tricks done a thousand times before yet it’s still amazing to bear witness to a magician that can succeed in leaving us feeling like idiots. However, the skill is in misdirecting the audience away from the eventual answer. Most of us know that there’s going to be a trick at some point, but there should be enough ambiguity and resolve in our own minds for us to completely miss where the deception is taking place.
Like I said, it’s not a terrible movie, and I would’ve still watched it to the end even without wanting to write this review. The atmosphere is satisfactorily eerie, all of the supporting cast do their jobs and there are a few entertaining set-pieces within the script. Yet for a film so anchored on one single twist and such a limited amount of characters, it didn’t try hard enough to spin my attention away from the obvious conclusion, which is at least partly down to De Niro’s performance.
It’s clear from the start that he’s playing the David role as softly as possible in order of averting any suspicions, which instead immediately raise them. When he and Charlie are never in the same room together, most of the other characters are portrayed as worrying threats, and he remains the only one that isn’t overtly conspicuous: it’s quite obviously him.
Ultimately the writer is certainly to blame, and having watched Ari Schlossberg’s TV series, Harper’s Island, many of the same quibbles would apply. But then maybe if De Niro had genuinely smiled once in a while and come across as a guy that wasn’t quite so meek and uneasy, then finding out that he is in fact a killer would’ve been more unexpected. The man’s wife has committed suicide, so a certain amount of sadness is understandable, but even when David has met an attractive single mother, and we’re supposed to believe that there could be a new romance blossoming, there is still no real connection with potential happiness. Were we to have noticed a spark between them on David’s behalf, then the notion of his daughter carrying out the sabotage of their blooming relationship might have seemed a more credible red herring.
Anyway, once Charlie is eventually unleashed on to the screen, we get ten minutes of De Niro running rampant with a knife on default psycho mode, which is always enjoyable to watch. He plays the character like a menacingly childish killer, a cross between his roles in Cape Fear and This Boy’s Life, and gets just enough time to have a go at that Marco Polo game that Americans seem to love, but English people are always left puzzled by.
All in all, Hide and Seek could be a lot worse, and I didn’t feel it was nearly as bad as many reviews made it out to be. These critics may have gone into the movie expecting Casino or Taxi Driver, but with a tag-line like “Come out come out, whatever you are” I was certainly not expecting something of such a high calibre. It would’ve been nice to see a few more twists to leave me guessing, but being proved right is still smugly rewarding, and for those who aren’t as familiar with popular twists (and who haven’t read this article) then the ending may still leave them duped. Possibly.