12 Monkeys

Synopsis: Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to save the human race from a deadly virus that has forced mankind into dank underground communities in the future. Along his travels he encounters a psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe) and a mental patient, brilliantly portrayed by Brad Pitt, who may hold the key to a mysterious rogue group, the Army of the 12 Monkeys, thought to be responsible for unleashing the killer disease. Believing he can obtain a pure virus sample in order to find a cure in the future, he is met with one riddle after another that puts him in a race with time. This sci-fi masterpiece from the genius mind of Terry Gilliam is a modern-day classic.
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12 Monkeys 8.0

I’m a huge fan of Terry Gilliam’s. While I can’t say that I find any of his movies to be perfect, or to be listed amongst my all-time favourites, his is a vision that simply cannot be mimicked. And that, to me, is usually compelling enough to reel me in. His movies are always at least half-way interesting, so it’s never a waste of time – there’s frequently plenty either to discuss or to immerse yourself in.

The same goes for ’12 Monkeys’, a dystopian time-travel picture wherein the future of mankind can only be saved by preventing a pandemic in the past.

It’s particularly relevant today, in an age of swine-flu paranoia and supposed bio-terrorism: the media and the authorities are consistently playing off of each other to warn us that the end is nigh; we must ready ourselves for the worst possible outbreak imaginable lest we lose all that we know and love.

Well, Gilliam’s movie (from a script which is loosely based on the short ‘La jetée’), takes us into that nightmare and back. It’s ambiguous enough to leave the audience wondering if it’s actually happening (or is it just a madman’s delerium?) and if it can be reversed. So it’s not a fancy happy-go-lucky Hollywood film, regardless of the caliber of the star power.

Speaking of which, this was a turning point for Bruce Willis. His career was mired in action pieces and he wanted to play more nuanced characters; it was a welcome break for him and he performs admirably. Equally good, at least in the first half of the movie, is a manic Brad Pitt – in a role that rightfully netted him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

Gilliam, meanwhile, is well-known as an especially picky (and eccentric!) filmmaker and his films have rarely been birthed without complications: ‘Brazil’, ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’, ‘The Man Who Kiled Don Quixote’ and, his latest, ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ are well-recognized in the industry as production horror stories. The same thing occurred here, albeit on a lesser scale, and, for example, the ending is not the one that he would have chosen – it would have finished two scenes before the one in the final film.

Personally, I have to agree with him that his ending would have been more cohesive and a fantastic ‘book-end’. But it was considered too grim and Hollywood force-fed a glimmer of hope in the last few moments so that the masses could go home better equipped to digest all the popcorn, soda and candy that they had compulsively ingested. Comfort is, after all, a commodity.

Either way, ’12 Monkeys’ is a grimy, grey affair – but it’s well-paced and well-crafted enough that one can hardly be bored or depressed by the proceedings. Like Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ and ‘Time Bandits’, there’s always something that grabs the imagination and takes you into another world for a couple of hours.

It’s worth the trip and the time.

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