Sunday 18 October 2009

Review: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Review: 2009
Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenplay: Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown
Starring: Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Christopher Plummer

Plot Synopsis is here

A Terry Gilliam film is always a herculean task. Not to watch mind, no that's usually a joy. I mean the process of Gilliam as director actually making a film itself always requires the power of the Norse gods themselves in order to get it made. Be it totalitarian producers (Brazil) to the fiasco of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a production so wrecked with problems that ANOTHER film was made that documents what had happened. This last film still hasn't been made and Gilliam will get another chance now that the rights have been retrieved by the director.

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is no different with one the leads (Ledger) dying halfway through filming. This tragic loss however, showed how bloody minded Gilliam is. Finishing the film in Heath's honor, Ledger's role of Tony is now played by not only the deceased, but by three other actors. It seems that nothing will stop Gilliam from completing his visions.

Me, as a viewer is happy that Gilliam managed to finish this movie because it once again shows just how imaginative Gilliam is. This is a film filled with fantastical visions and gorgeous imagery that could only come from the artist known as Terry. The film playfully motifs much of Gilliam's back catalogue but still manages to produce some delightfully original visual moments.

The films narrative reminded me (bizarrely) of M Night Shyamalan extremely pompous Lady in the water; from it's red headed heroine in peril to it's melding of fantasy realms within the modern world. The film also brings about the same message of the death of creativity and story, although unlike Shyamalan ego trip, Gilliam turns clearly wishes to push the focus on Hollywood itself, with the film at times showing a clear allegory towards modern cinema. Parnassus cynically demonstrates that there's shysters and crooks everywhere trying to destroy the imagination and ability of artists. What makes Parnassus a better film than the aforementioned Lady in the water is while the character of Parnassus is literally NOT Gilliam himself but any artist wishing to make his mark. There's no smarm here, just the honest insight on how we maybe killing artistic merit.

However, as with many of Gilliam's films, he has so much to say and appears to have very little time for discipline and the films plot strands are very thin. The film could really do with a tiny bit of explanation on how the power of Doctor Parnassus is harnessed, as well as giving the more important characters additional back story. early opinions have stated confusion with the film. I had no such problem with following the story, but in my point of view the film needed more weight, especially with the grand metaphors Gilliam wishes to push forward.

Despite this, Parnassus manages to maintain engagement with it's charming cast. Much as been said with the new casting implements that took place, however the way it's handled in the film is tasteful. Also if it were not for the fact that the issues involving Ledger became public knowledge the transitions would be almost unnoticeable. I do wish that I hadn't known anything about the "replacements" in the film because it would have been an delightful surprise.

Ledger's last performance once again shows how much potential the young actor had. It's a much more restrained performance than his role of The Joker, but the quirks and magnetism come through strong. The three Tony transformations played Depp, Law and Farrell vary in quality (Law is the weakest, Depp has the best material to work with) but they manage to enhance the extraordinary power of the imagery world that lies behind Parnassus' mirror. Depp has a scene stealing monologue which clearly feels written after Ledgers death. It's a wonderful moment from a blink and you'll miss it display from Depp.

I found myself wondering why Christopher Plummer was never considered for Albert Dumbledore (correct me if I'm wrong) as he brings just as much of gravitas that both Richard Harris and Micheal Gambon have given to the part. Lily Cole is not only just a pretty face (especially when she wears less make up) but puts more than enough spunk into a role that another dead eyed model would have ruined. Cole shows that she has some acting chops behind her catwalking. Another solid performance comes from (relatively) unknown Andrew Garfield while Verne Troyer gets all the good grubby lines as a voice of reason and truth. Tom Waits rounds up the cast as the scenery chewing (but great fun) antagonist of the piece.

The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is bittersweet film, both in fiction and reality and despite it's story issues, it brings about some of the best of a masterful director. Gilliam, whose is approaching his 70's shows no signs of losing his bite with his film cynically taking subliminal chunks out of the hand that sometimes feeds him. Despite the film sometimes not holding enough weight, it's cast is forever engaging and it's visuals are some of the most eye popping of the year. Gilliam fans will know what all the fuss is about, Ledger fans may well up in his last performance, while others may sit there befuddled. But then difficult is just the way Gilliam likes it.

Hear more talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline