Terry Gilliam has been planning and plotting and dreaming and scheming to make his Don Quixote movie since the late 1980s.
As an article in The New York Times pointed out, Gilliam’s daughter, Amy, was 11 when he first began working on the film. She is now 41 and a producer on “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”
This is not a completed version of the Johnny Depp-starring “Don Quixote” movie Gilliam started filming in 2000 that fell apart due to flash floods and other setbacks. (That debacle was chronicled in the 2002 documentary “Lost in La Mancha.” Gilliam’s ongoing struggles to make the movie were chronicled in a second documentary, “He Dreams of Giants.”)
This is an altogether new production, featuring an eclectic and fantastic cast led by Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgaard and Olga Kurylenko.
It is a wild, absurdist, crazy-quilt, soaring flight of bat-bleep fancy.
Were there times when I was lost in the flourishes and the detours and the madness, and it appeared that the characters were foundering about as if they were each starring in their own movies? Oh, yes.
But was I constantly engaged, consistently intrigued, usually grinning at the sheer beautiful craziness of these dreamers?
Adam Driver brings a Nicolas Cage-esque zeal to his terrifically loony performance as Toby, whom we meet as he is directing a vodka commercial inspired by a scene from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel “Don Quixote.”
To say Toby is passionate – and troubled – would be an understatement. He seems on the verge of breakdown. Clad all in white, he barks commands such as, “Me organ grinder, you monkey,” dances with the script girl and launches into a tirade about the casting: “I said I want laughing, smiling, happy, clapping people! White, black, yellow, green, LGBT, GLBT, G&T, f—— T&A, I don’t give a f— as long as the ratio is right!”
Decaf, Toby. Decaf.
Back at his hotel, Toby pops in a DVD. The woman he’s with asks, “What is that?”
“‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,’ ” Toby replies. “I made it a long time ago. My graduation film. It won me lots of awards. … It was supposed to be my passport to Hollywood.”
Seeking to rediscover his lost youth and inspiration, Toby returns to the Spanish village where he shot that student film and reconnects with the shoemaker, Javier (the invaluable Jonathan Pryce, 30-plus years after starring in Gilliam’s “Brazil”), who starred as Don Quixote in that movie and came to believe (and still believes) he actually WAS Don Quixote and Toby was Sancho Panza, and, yes, this movie is a movie within a movie perhaps within another movie, and what else would we expect from the Python-infused mind of Terry Gilliam?
Don Quixote and Sancho – I mean, Javier the shoemaker and Toby the director – get involved in a series of crazy adventures, with period-piece costume drama clashing with 21st century plot developments. (At one point, Skarsgaard, in full costume, scolds Toby to “try to keep up with the plot.” Toby’s response: “There’s a plot?” We know how you feel, Toby.)
Of course, Gilliam’s quest to make his Don Quixote film mirrors the original novel, and the movie he finally made is like a fun house mirror version – filled with wonderfully, sometimes disturbingly strange imagery as tragedy meets comedy meets romance meets the noble glory of the artist sacrificing nearly everything in the quest to make lasting art.
At last, here is Gilliam’s latest work of cinematic art.