Friday, May 17, 2019

Movie Review: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Terry Gilliam.
Written by: Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni.
Starring: Adam Driver (Toby Grisoni), Jonathan Pryce ("Don Quixote"), Stellan Skarsgård (The Boss), Olga Kurylenko (Jacqui), Joana Ribeiro (Angelica), Óscar Jaenada (The Gypsy), Jason Watkins (Rupert), Sergi López (The Farmer), Rossy de Palma (The Farmer's Wife), Hovik Keuchkerian (Raul), Jordi Mollà (Alexei Miiskin).
It’s a miracle that Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote exists as a film at all. He’s been trying to make the film for 25 years – the one time previously he started to shoot the film, things went horribly wrong, resulting in the very good documentary Lost in La Mancha, which documented just what went wrong. The film is dedicated to John Hurt and Jean Rochefort – two previous actors cast as Don Quixote at various times, and both of whom are now dead. But Terry Gilliam never gave up – and he finally got to made his dream project. For that alone, I admire him and the film itself. I am just a little confused though that how a film a filmmaker has been making in his head for more than two decades still ended up being such a mess. True, it’s Gilliam – and its late Gilliam at that. He hasn’t really made a non-mess of a film since 12 Monkeys (1995) – but even so, sometimes when he makes a mess, it’s a wonderful mess like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Here, it’s just a mess.
The film stars Adam Driver as Toby, a commercial director, in Spain to shoot a commercial which references Don Quixote (because, of course, commercials often reference books a few centuries old). It’s his first time back in Spain since he shot his student film – The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – in which he cast a local farmer (Jonathan Pryce) to play the famed delusional hero. When he meets up with the man again, he is shocked because that farmer now really does think he is Don Quixote – and he sees as his Sancho Panza (the actor who played him in the student film is now dead). Soon, they are off on a weird quest of sorts themselves – as Toby is running from the police, and his bosses, and the girl he was involved with when he made that film, Angelica (Joana Ribeiro) who he then abandoned. She has now become the kept mistress of a rich man – but in a way seems happy in her captivity, which makes Toby say some truly awful things to her.
What else can I say about the plot of the movie? I think an exchange late in the film pretty much sums it up when Don Quixote tells Toby to follow the plot, and Toby responds “There’s a plot?”. That’s accurate, because while a lot of things happen in the movie, I’m not sure you could describe it as a plot as such. Gilliam isn’t really interested in that. What he’s basically doing is making a movie about how trying to tell the story of Don Quixote can drive one mad in and of itself – it’s driven Jonathan Pryce mad, it’s caused Toby to sell out and become cynical, etc. In a very real way, Gilliam has made a film about how trying to make this film was maddening.
Is that enough though? If you didn’t know the story of what Gilliam went through to get here, would this movie look at all interesting, or would it simply just look like a complete and total mess. There are elements I admire to be sure – Adam Driver is giving it his all here, and you have to admire that a star like him, with any number of projects he could choose, has continually decided to work with interesting filmmakers, especially a mad one like Gilliam, and follow him in his quest to tilt at windmills. And Jonathan Pryce is in fine form as Don Quixote – who has to play a couple levels of madness – the madness of Quixote, and the madness of his real person playing Quixote. Pryce has delivered a few performances in the last few years – Listen Up Philip, The Wife and now this – that remind you just how good he can be in the right role.
I admire Gilliam for sticking with this – for never letting this die completely, and to finally getting to make the film he wanted to. At the same time, it’s another film in the vein of The Brothers Grimm, Tideland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and The Zero Therom though – a complete mess. None of them are without interest, but none of them also seem to be able to harness the madness like Gilliam can when at his best - Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys. But A for effort Terry.

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