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MOVIE REVIEW: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

| 2 April 2019 | Reply

MOVIE REVIEW: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Written by Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgård, Olga Kurylenko
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote comes bundled with a crushing weight of expectation. Long held up as an example of the worst kind of movie development hell, Gilliam has spent twenty-nine long, heartbreaking years bringing this story to the big screen, only to see the project collapse time and time again.

Beset by trials (literal and figurative) and tribulations that would fuel a soap opera all by itself, the director’s aborted efforts to shoot the film of Cervantes’ four-hundred-year-old novel – often referred to as the finest example of Spanish literature ever – have finally been successful, but the results aren’t able to live up to the hopes held for the production.

That The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is stunningly shot, full of style and depth, and an almost psychedelic mindtrip of a film is no surprise – Gilliam’s vision as a filmmaker has always been unique and never fails to amaze, but it’s not the first time that his enormous vision for a project doesn’t land on the screen fully formed.

The movie centres on Toby, played with lusty verve by Adam Driver. He’s a jaded advertisement director who finds himself shooting a commercial in Spain based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Realising that he shot his lauded student film of the Don Quixote story in a nearby village ten years hence, he seeks out the locals he used for the production, only to find that his film had a negative impact on many of their lives.

Primary amongst them is the former village cobbler, portrayed expertly by Jonathan Pryce, who Toby cajoled into ‘becoming’ the titular character of his movie. A decade on, the old man is mad as a hatter, delusionally believing himself to be the real Don Quixote, and living in a hovel.

Feeling responsible, Toby tries to help the cobbler, bringing him into conflict with his boss (Stellan Skarsgård) and his trophy wife (Olga Kurylenko), and it’s here that Gilliam doesn’t so much blur the lines between reality and madness and fantasy as throw twenty-nine years of ideas at the screen and hope that some of it makes sense. Sadly, more often than not from here on in, little of it makes adequate sense.

It would be easy to suggest that the copious rewrites over the past three decades confused the script beyond salvation, or that the budget problems that beset each of the alleged eight productions of the film are glaringly obvious on the screen. More esoterically, one must wonder if Gilliam sees either the creatively stifled sell-out Toby or the obsessively delusional old cobbler (or a mixture of both) autobiographically. Perhaps it would be most true to suggest that Gilliam’s obsession with this story carried with it its own madness and delusion, and that is reflected in the final product.

None of which is to say this is a BAD film. On the contrary, it is a bold, articulate, stunning, passionate and glorious hot mess of a movie. Gilliam shoots the countryside like he would shoot a lover, Toby’s journey from self-obsession to self-realisation is achingly real, in fact all of his actor’s performances are committed and captivating. The end result is fascinating though muddled, but given the convoluted and painful birth of the film perhaps it could have ended no other way?

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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