Those who know my tastes know that I love a good dystopia. And when it comes to building an anxiety-inducing world, both comedic and disturbing, Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL delivers. Jonathon Pryce plays Sam, a government worker who’s perfectly content with being an anonymous cog in a machine while daydreaming of being a hero. It isn’t until a clerical error introduces him to the woman of his dreams—literally—that he suddenly finds himself fighting against that machine. And losing. In Gilliam’s totalitarian alternate reality, stifling bureaucracy takes the place of Big Brother. Incorrect paperwork leads to murder, torture is just a day at the office, and competency is an act of terrorism. (Enter Robert De Niro as a rogue mechanic, doing battle with ducts and pipes.) The pacing doesn’t always hold together, and the story and characters seem a bit underdeveloped. But BRAZIL is all about the atmosphere: wonderfully detailed set design, unsettling imagery, darkly comic slapstick, and Terry Gilliam’s unmatched imagination.
I wish I had seen this film as a kid. Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure features a band of dwarfs who have stolen a map from the Supreme Being (aka God) in order to pilfer through the ages. They’re joined by Kevin, a smart young boy with disinterested parents, and hunted, of course, by the Evil Genius. Watching as an adult, TIME BANDITS feels disjointed, and the humor sometimes falls flat. But I can tell that as a child, the inspired imagery and dark dreamscapes would have affected me in a big way. Some parts are great, like an overly courteous Robin Hood played by John Cleese, and an ending that goes from cliché to outlandish in seconds. Mostly, however, the charm lies in the film’s childish logic and spectacular visuals.