12 Monkeys (1995)

This wild, weird time-travel tale is equal parts fantasy and 
figment.  Once again, director Terry Gilliam (BRAZIL, THE FISHER 
KING) is charting the waters of madness.  Both in his vision of a 
decimated future-- where 99% of the human race has perished in a 
plague, forcing the survivors to live underground-- and in his 
portrayal of a man sent from that future to save what's left of the 
human race.  The man in question is Cole (Bruce Willis), a convict 
from 2035 who is sent to present-day and, upon arrival, is promptly 
placed in a mental institution.  Sound familiar?

Writers David and Janet Peoples-- working from Chris Marker's 1962 
short LA JETEE-- have written a strapping sci-fi saga that wouldn't 
be out of a place as a TERMINATOR sequel.  Terry Gilliam, of 
course, isn't interested in simple, slick story mechanics.  He has 
something else in mind.  Literally.  Gilliam takes us *inside* of 
Cole's head, to watch as he becomes increasingly disoriented by his 
continued trips between "realities."  What is real?  The question 
is a recurring theme in 12 MONKEYS, and one that is ultimately left 
to the discretion of the viewer.  Even after the dust of a dynamite 
finale has cleared, all the answers do *not* stand revealed.

The challenges of this movie are numerous.  In addition to the 
paradoxes of the plot, there's the shock and disorientation from 
stepping into Gilliam's "distorted reality."  Skewed camera 
angles and exaggerated close-ups are the norm, here.  With the 
exception of Bruce Willis, the actors all play human cartoons.  
Madeline Stowe transforms from a short-skirted psychiatrist to 
Cole's raving accomplice.  Brad Pitt is a marvel of twitches and 
tics as a cross-eyed mental patient.  Even old pro Christopher 
Plummer, as a virologist, gets to play with a preposterous Old 
South southern accent.

The barrage continues with an array of film clips, pop songs, 
Hitchcock allusions, and other symbolism.  Blink and you'll miss 
something spectacular-- such as the shot of a department-store 
angel rising behind Stowe.  Gorgeous.  With a superb production 
design and stunning art direction-- based, apparently, on the color 
of mucus-- it all adds up to a welcome assault on the senses.  In 
an era when motion picture have become too safe for their own good, 
it's nice (and downright exciting) to see a movie that goes in so 
many directions at once, and still lands on its feet.  Thank God 
for Terry Gilliam. (Rated "R"/~130 min.)

Grade: A            

Originally posted to triangle.movies

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