Twelve Monkeys (1995) (R)
This review contains SPOILERS!
I like Terry Gilliam. That being said, I really haven't seen that much of what he's done; but I like what I've seen. "Brazil" is incredible and "Monty Python" is always delightful. But I think with one of the quintessential sci-fi movies of the late twentieth century, "Twelve Monkeys", I can't help but be a little disappointed.
This is probably because even for all Gilliam's inventiveness, the movie will never compare to the original short film it was based on. "La Jetée" tells the same story, but it does it in such a way that is spellbinding and simply magical. Yet the short film is only half an hour long. Gilliam and screenwriters Chris Marker and David and Janet Peoples stretch the short film out far beyond its limits and in doing this, the audience can start to see the cracks.
Now I realize that I'm one of the only people who thinks this way; but I can't help but believe that "Brazil" is Giliam at the height of his powers and here, he seems like he is struggling.
Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a prisoner on whom scientific experiments are conducted. James is sent through time in order to find the cause of a deadly virus that would eventually wipe out 5 million people before the population on Earth moved underground.
So...it's pretty much exactly what happens in "La Jetée". As with the short French film, James keeps having dreams of a memory or a hallucination from his childhood in which he witnesses an act of violence. As the movie moves along, things are complicated when he starts to meet people from his dream.
One of these people is a psychiatrist named Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) who befriends James as he is put in a mental institution during the times of flux that he spends between time periods. This isn't an exact science, it's lightning in a bottle and a prayer.
So James becomes catapulted throughout time like a confused, drugged version of Doctor Who and in each iteration, the set pieces get more elaborate. As is Gilliam's tendency, everything reeks of a huge budgets. His mind seems to be the Petri dish for steampunk fantasies about big government. As with his previous movies, Big Brother is always staring down the shoulder of James as he tries to unravel his past/present/future. The dates become blurred and even the viewer has a hard time understanding everything that is going on. James seems to do things with no motivation and unfortunately, this is not Bruce Willis at his best.
Brad Pitt enters as the crazy son of a genius scientist (Christopher Plummer) and does the whole "I'm locked in an asylum, please help, I'm actually charming" thing quite well. All that said, he's nothing special and the movies gives him too much leeway for a character that is, in essence, just a large distraction for entertainment value (insert comment on what movies are at their core here, madness ensues).
Still, the movie is enjoyable, even with all its bizarre camera angles and distracting soundtrack. It's really nothing compared to its predecessor. The invention of "La Jetée" was how it was filmed, shot almost entirely in still frame photographs; yet Gilliam seems to want to make something just as inventive, and he fails. There is a stylistic stark difference in the two that proves that all movies that you assume are inaccessible are actually inaccessible. Somethings just weren't made to be messed with.
Posted by Micah Jones