This musing on life and existential angst is crafted beautifully with Gilliam’s (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) trademark style and sense of twisted worlds.
As good as the film is, it would not work without Waltz (Django Unchained). He creates a delightfully broken man with whom you find yourself both frustrated and sympathizing with at the same time. Confusing and enlightening his world, Thierry (The Hollow Crown) provides a beautifully unapologetic woman of strength and subjugation. The levels of interaction between the two are complex, funny, and heartbreaking.
While somewhat peripheral, Hedges inserts himself into this mess of a relationship and life in a performance whose energy and style echos River Phoenix or a young DiCaprio. It is a meatier part than he’s typically landed (Labor Day, Grand Budapest Hotel) and could get him some nice notice.
The triumvirate are surrounded by a plethora of characters, as almost any Gilliam film collects. Damon (The Monuments Men) delivers a controlled and spooky performance not quite like anything I’ve seen him do before. Thewlis (Red 2) provides his trademark sympathetic-weird, as does Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive). Both get their chance to shine in this story, but neither is quite complete or real–they are set dressing and plot pushers only, however entertaining. In a much smaller, amusing role Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) chews up the screen for a few moments as well.
But, ultimately, this is a Gilliam film, even if he didn’t write this one. It feels like the Gilliam of old; the man whose brain fascinates and terrifies. It is probably his most impactful and unique since Brazil, but I’ve loved them all along the way, even Tideland, which most people missed entirely.
While just hitting screens, it started its role-out and continues availability by VOD now, which is how I had to see it. Honestly, if you can see it on the big screen, it deserves that space to better show off all its detail. The richness of the world, the density of the set dressing, and the detail of the composition works on any screen… you just may have to watch it a few extra times to catch it all and all the references to other Gilliam works. This continued choice to rollout on multiple platforms (just like Veronica Mars and Snowpiercer) has me somewhat torn. I love that I have the chance to see and support these films early, rather than having to wait for a disc as they didn’t get screens anywhere near me. However, I am also frustrated as they are often truly big-screen films that are never provided the right venue for a huge part of their audience.
Bottom line, if you love Gilliam this is a must-see film. If you’ve never seen a Gilliam film, this will certainly give you an undiluted taste.