Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Heath Ledger, Verne Troyer, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell
Score: 7 / 10
This review by me.
First things first. With this film there is an elephant in the room and let us get that out the way shall we.
Heath Ledger passed away during the making of this film so sadly this was his last film. He was great as The Joker in The Dark Knight. He was not so good in this as a character called Tony. I am not saying he was bad, he just seemed to be coasting in it. I would go so far as to say that Heath was the weakest link in the cast (well after Verne Troyer) and the fact his accent comes and goes doesn’t help the proceedings, but he does a perfectly acceptable job. Plus, despite what you may have read, this is not Heath Ledger’s film. This is Terry Gilliam’s through and through.
Like all of his films the main characters seem to exist in their own bubble of bizarreness slightly askew from the real world. In this case the real world is London and its environs. Into that world we see a strange horse drawn cart (a fantastic vehicle full of nooks and crannies) that carries the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), Percy (Verne Troyer) and Anton (a brilliant Andrew Garfield) who is in love with Valentina.
In these first few scenes with the family / troupe all of the actors are fantastic including the model Lily Cole. They all do what they are supposed to do and inhabit their characters so well you are soon drawn into their life, squabbles and dramas as they play to people in back alleys, Homebase car parks and ruined warehouses.
We soon learn that Parnassus made a deal with the Devil or Mr Nick (Tom Waits) for immortality and youth but there was a price. It is this price that is the plot for the film as they make another deal to get out of it.
Plummer and Waits are great together. You get a sense that over the centuries they have become almost wary friends as they are the one constant they have. You see how they first met and I would have loved to have seen more of their interactions throughout the years. Mr Nick is an excellent version of the Devil. Whenever he is around you hear the buzzing of flies and Tom Waits’ gravel toned voice suits him down to the ground (I’ve just remembered he played Renfield in Coppola’s Dracula so the fly thing is mildly ironic). I also loved his reaction when….oh I’ll leave that part out.
On their journey Dr Parnassus and co find Tony (Ledger) hanging by the neck under a bridge on the Thames. They save him, but his memory is lost and we find out bits and bobs as the film progresses.
He also falls for Valentina so conflict ensues between Tony and Anton. I really must say how good Andrew Garfield (Anton) is as Anton. You really feel for the guy as he tries to keep things they same as everything changes. Lily Cole is also a revelation. I always thought she was the ginger haired model with the really young looking face, but she sure can act and looks so much better moving around then in a photograph. Like any child coming of age she wants to spread her wings and get away, but she is stuck in a position and doesn’t realise just how perilous it can be.
Then of course we have the Imaginarium itself. This is what people enter and their imagination shapes it until they are either purified by the good Doctor or taken by Mr Nick depending upon what choices they make.
It is here that Terry Gilliam’s imagination truly takes flight. Like his animated creations from the Monty Python days he basically just goes to town and the CGI fits rather well. From forests full of beer cans, cities made of sweets, endless deserts and infinitely high mountains we get some stunning imagery. We also get a very pythonesque musical number involving policemen and a Zardoz style Parnassus head.
During the film Tony enters the Imaginarium on three occasions and on each occasion we see a different aspect of his personality and learn a bit more of his past. As you no doubt know these scenes where filmed after Heath Ledger had passed away so Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped in.
To be honest it works wonderfully and I feel it is a lot better this way than if Ledger had filmed those scenes. All three of the alternate Tony’s are brilliant with Depp being my favourite, but also having the shortest screen time of the three. In fact I would probably have preferred to see Depp play Tony throughout the film as it almost felt that Ledger was channelling Depp in a few scenes, a slight Jack Sparrow feel to his delivery. That could just be me though.
I do feel that Christopher Plummer is the true star of the film. He is a fantastic actor and the panic, terror, joy and knowledge he brings throughout the film are great. He is a legend.
The main trouble with the film, expecially in the first third, is that I felt my concentration going now and again. Little things kept pulling me out such as seeing the singer Paloma Faith or that bloke from the bank adverts, but that will be because there are lots of English actors in it from the TV so it was bound to happen. However, the main story is told in bits and pieces at the start. That’s usually a good thing as I hate it when you are told everything without having to think, but it could have done with being a little tighter and I think 10 or 15 minutes could have been shaved off the running time.
All in all I enjoyed it and it is always great to see a Gilliam movie with all that Gilliam flights of fancy. Just don’t go and see it to see Heath Ledgers last film. That’s no reason to see it. Go to watch it for the strangeness, the weirdness and quality acting from all of the cast.
Of course everything I have just seen could all be the senile ramblings of an old man wandering the streets of London who thinks he is Doctor Parnassus and Percy is his Jiminy Cricket.
I went to see it with Jinja, Andy M and Del who scored it as follows:
Jinja – 5 / 10
Andy M – 5.5 / 10
Del – 7 /10
Have you seen it? What did you think of it?