Dir: Terry Gilliam
Star: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Ian Holm
Gilliam’s epic is universally regarded as one of the great dystopian fantasies of all time… Just not by me. If it’s now become a poster-child for corporate interference, I have to say, I can see studio honcho Sid Sheinberg’s. While I can certainly admire the visual style, it’s a lumbering orgy of self-indulgence that certainly overstays its welcome at 131 minutes, making its point efficiently enough – yes, modern society is a soulless bureaucratic nightmare – then flogging it to death with the frenzied abandon of an abusive Roman soldier. Sam Lowry (Pryce) is a low-level government drone assigned to try and rectify an error that led to the wrong man being arrested and dying in custoy. In the process, he discovers a neighbour of the deceased, Jill Layton (Greist), is the woman about whom he has been having a recurring dream – however, she is now suspected of being involved in a long-running series of terrorist incidents, and so is now a fugitive from the government. Lowry sets out to rescue her, even accepting a long-refused promotion to ‘Information Retrieval’ in order to find out more about her. However, his snooping brings him to the attention of the authorities as well.
Have to say, I was looking at my watch an awful lot, especially in the second half which sees very little in the way of story development, rather than Lowry flailing round in bureaucratic circles. The ending also has to be regarded as one of the most monumental cop-outs in movie history. It yanks the carpet out from beneath the viewer and basically writes off the preceding thirty minutes or more, provoking no feeling more than exasperation, as if Gilliam was mocking anyone dumb enough to sit through it all. On the plus side, the main (bordering on only) thing is the stunning cinematic sense which he brings to the screen: it’s hard to say which has been more influential, as far as depictions of the future go: the retro-futurism here or Blade Runner’s neon sleaze. I just need much more content with my cinematography, and after the first half-hour, the story and characters here stop delivering – the remaining hundred minutes are too much like watching a Duran Duran video, without the nekkid chicks.