The Man Who Killed Don Quixote — 6/10


The question mark after the year above indicates natural confusion — Gilliam has been trying to make this movie for about 30 years, with all kinds of peaks and valleys (Johnny Depp as Toby, John Hurt as Quixote, a documentary about its troubled production released 17 years ago, etc.). It has a copyright 2017 in its credits, a 2018 premiere date at Cannes, and finally an American theatrical release. But does stamping a year on this even matter? It’s clearly a career summary for the already-notoriously-insane Gilliam, who sees himself as both Toby and Quixote, and thus turns Toby into Quixote over the course of the epic arc.

The script does feel like it was mainly penned 20 years ago — some elements are stale and outdated, even though it’s also a somewhat faithful adaptation of Cervantes. There’s innkeepers and prostitutes, scorned lovers, dreams of giants, escaped convicts, and loads and loads of imagination. But characters like Olga Kurylenko’s Jacqui (cringe-inducing horniness) just don’t work regardless of their allusions to the text, and the result is a big, sprawling movie that is by turns breathtaking and sloppy.

By now you should know if you like Gilliam. I generally don’t. He’s rarely boring, but every movie he makes is a manic bouillabaisse of Fellini-esque-apades. Much like the grating BRAZIL, spastic TWELVE MONKEYS, or trippy FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, this thing is stuffed to the gills with clutter. Every frame looks like the production designer exploded in a microwave. The colorful costumes are amazing, the set decoration fussy and impressive, and the locations genuinely outstanding. To look at this movie on the big screen is to see something bold and unusual. But it also makes your eye dart everywhere on the screen, as it’s both compositionally ugly and often rich and striking. One frame belongs in the Louvre, another belongs in the trash can of a hoarder’s garage.

Adam Driver makes the movie cruise by, however, with a committed physical performance showing his trademark exasperation and passion. Pryce is properly funny and annoying, as Quixote is supposed to be. The two of them serve as complimentary Gilliam avatars: creative and existing outside the lines, but also shrill and exhausting. And while this may be one of Gilliam’s more alluring movies overall, the fact that as a director he’s tilting at windmills anyway makes an adaptation of Quixote kind of redundant.

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