The film then proceeds to jump after Cole has apparently made his journey into the past. We do not witness the time travel, but it appears it is a bit less pleasant than taking a drive in a DeLorean. When we see Cole again he has found himself in a mental institution where a psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) attempts to help him. Willis is excellent in his first scene as he is restrained in a room having been arrested after attacking police officers. Willis, unlike a certain co-star, portrays the "madness" of Cole incredibly well. Willis shows the way his body seems to be completely wasted almost by the journey in just the wretched state he is in. Willis though importantly depicts the ramblings of Cole especially well by conveys the extreme fear in Cole's voice as he just tries to tell the doctor his mission. Obviously trying to tell someone your from the future is not easy. Willis is terrific in making even more difficult in a believable fashion by so well realizing not only what the time travel has done to him, but also portrays just the amount of the anxiety gripping him knowing the importance of his mission. Willis also establishes instantly that this most definitely will not be a typical Bruce Willis performance.
Bruce Willis continues to be almost surprisingly good in the scenes set in the mental institution making Pitt's performance, which on re-watch come off even worse on re-watch and pretty much is just a bad version of Dennis Hopper's performance in Apocalypse Now, look quite amateurish by comparison. Willis does well to realize the whole state of Cole in these scenes within a brilliantly internalized intensity of being in a situation he does not quite understand, while still being burdened by the purpose of his mission. Along with that though Willis portrays so well the daze that Cole is in caused by the drugs that the institute is giving him. In all of that though Willis is still able to create the sense of Cole attempting to break out of all it in his attempt to find out the information he needs in the future. Willis is particularly good in a scene where he attempts to explain his purpose once again, this time calmer though also likely medicated, in front of the panel of psychiatrists. Willis conveys so well the single minded nature of Cole as well as the incredible sense of urgency as he tries to put it clearly to the psychiatrists. Willis is excellent because he does still sound completely insane, though if one believe he is from the future Willis shows the painful situation that Cole is in.
Eventually the future takes Cole back only to send him back into the past again, with the process only making Cole worse every time he is thrown through time, even at one point being shot after accidentally being sent back to World War I. Willis portrays well just how severe this treatment is damaging Cole as he presents an even more jumbled man than before. Willis plays it as though Cole is still not sure where exactly the time has left him only that he must try to finish his mission either way. He's the right jumble of emotions as he can't quite comprehend what exactly he's been through even while being wrecked with fear of the upcoming demise of humanity, as well as that nightmare that never ceases to stop haunting him. Willis though also carefully begins to show the way that Cole is finally attempting to break out of the web that he's caught in through his attachment from the future. The moments where Cole becomes violent Willis makes particularly natural as the actions of a very scared man lashing out. As well though Willis is very moving in the few instances of comfort he finds in the past, presenting him just as man trying to find a bit of comfort.
During this time Cole kidnaps Dr. Railly, and Willis is marvelous in making Cole such a mess to the point that he would much more likely be seen as a deranged mental patient. The two though technically become a bit of a Hitchcockian duo, fitting considering at one point they hide out at a Hitchcock marathon. They especially fit well into the 39 Steps duo with the kidnapping and with Railly being quite skeptical of Cole's claims. Willis and Stowe are fantastic together as Stowe acts as the very scared straight man to Willis's portrayal of Cole that is insanity though he never loses a certain sense that there still is more to him than that. What's so exceptional about both performances is how well in tune with one another as the two gradually switch positions as Railly starts to support Cole's ideas about the future, while Cole begins to doubt them as to try to fight against his apparent insanity or perhaps fight against the oppression nature of his future. I love that as Cole attempts to accept this Willis makes him even more withdrawn as a man struggling very deeply to keep his mental instability in check, all the while Stowe becomes far more manic as Railly starts to believe the severity of Cole's mission. Most remarkable of all though is how well they realize the romantic element between the two which does not really stop to declare itself but rather is well earned through just growth of understanding as well as warm that Willis and Stowe realize so wonderfully through their performances. Willis also is great in that this attachment seems to find Cole some comfort even as every new development keeps him in a state of confusion. His final scene is a tremendous final moment for Willis to finish his great work because he leaves Cole as just going through the motions of his fate of sorts that he has apparently been stuck in since the beginning, but finds just right poignancy in the moment through that one connection he does make before meeting his destiny.