By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn #SydFilmFest
It’s the film you’re probably never going to see. THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE has been, for many years now, cursed. After several troubled production starts that date back over twenty years, Terry Gilliam’s passion project finally made it to the big screen. Or at least it kind of did. After a premiere at Cannes and more recently at the Sydney Film Festival, Gilliam lost the rights to the movie, and its release could be inevitably delayed. So of course, being the humble bragger I am, I had to review it.
Toby (Adam Driver) is an advertising executive who never quite made it to Hollywood. We first catch up with him in the midst of making an advertisement using famed literary figure Don Quixote, but production troubles prove too much for Toby and he flees set, winding up in an old town he’s all too familiar with. This is the town where, many years ago, he made a student film about Don Quixote with a local villager (Jonathan Pryce) as the titular character. But as he begins to explore and reminisce, he discovers that his once-actor-friend now believes he’s the real Don Quixote, and Toby’s swept up in a time travelling adventure where the lines between fantasy and reality blur.
THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE is as silly as it comes, but that is to be expected when it comes to Gilliam’s filmography. This is, after all, one of the men behind MONTY PYTHON. His latest is a bombardment of the metaphorical. We’re constantly flung between fiction and reality, but the ridiculousness behind everything ensures that a lot of the sequences wind up thoroughly entertaining. There’s so much about this I really enjoyed, but so much about this I definitely didn’t. Gilliam’s passion certainly pulls through, and dedicated performances from Pryce and Driver make this one hell of a movie.
It’s essentially 132 minutes of Pryce having the time of his life while Driver watches, screaming “WHAT THE FUCK” every couple of minutes. Their dynamic carries this film. They pick the nonsensical plotting up off of the floor and create a new, fresh, exciting layer. Pryce is, without a doubt, the film’s standout. He’s having so much fun with this role, but his character is burdened with this unsettling sadness that mixed perfectly with the humour. He gives this his all and makes the movie.
Driver, as always, needs to be commended for his choice in films. Throughout such a short career he’s already managed to work with so many of the all-time greats, and now Gilliam can be added to the list. His character is an unlikeable scumbag with delusions of grandeur, but his development is fascinating. A lot of the time he feels as if he’s just along for the ride; more of an inactive, passive protagonist, if you will. It drags my interest levels in him down, but as time passed by, I found myself growing more attached and more empathetic towards him. But still, the dude’s a dick and Driver goes all in.
The fact that a film as extravagant as this exists is a miracle, and it’s one of the reasons I love Gilliam so much. He just doesn’t seem to care about audience expectations. Instead, he unapologetically makes the movie he wants to make, which is commendable but doesn’t always result in the masterpiece we all hoped this would be. Slight missteps in the setup result in audience confusion, while the pacing rushes along at a swift pace but soon dies down, and this 132-minute film feels much longer. While I definitely enjoyed this movie, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when the credits began to roll.
It’s the type of movie that’s puzzling and challenging in the moment, but one I’ve already started looking back on fondly. A lot of the screenplay is un-ironically politically incorrect and often quite sexist, which is perhaps due to the fact that it was initially written over twenty years ago, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. There are some obvious modernizations in place here, but the more sexist elements of the film clearly weren’t part of that. Olga Kurylenko and Stellan Skarsgård’s subplot in particular feels outdated and utterly useless in the long run. Had they been removed, the film would’ve moved at a swifter pace and became a more enjoyable experience.
THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE is an unfathomable movie experience. After so many years of failed productions, I do wish I were able to like it more than I did, but its bloody weird movie, and not always in a good way. Had it not been for Pryce and Driver’s performances, I honestly don’t think I would’ve enjoyed this as much as I did. I’d say go out and judge it for yourselves, but let’s be real, that’s never going to happen. So make sure you enjoy never being able to watch this movie.
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