It took director Terry Gilliam 30 years to get his Don Quixote vision on screen. It was worth the wait. His adventurous “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is a huge entertainment filled with striking imagery, colorful performances and ideas that reflect Gilliam’s fascination with the Cervantes character and the director’s own quest to see his desire become a reality.
There are many pleasures to be found in watching this film, which was shot in Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands and has an intricate screenplay by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. The striking visuals are one reward. The story is imaginative. And the performances are impressive, especially those of Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce.
Driver plays Toby, who previously made a student film about Quixote in a Spanish village. Now, his ambitions channeled from artistic aims into the advertising world, Toby returns to film a commercial. He not only finds that the village has changed but his earlier work had left considerable damage to those involved with the film.
For one thing, Javier, the shoemaker who played Quixote, has gone bonkers and morphed into believing that he really is Quixote. Jonathan Pryce is brilliant in that role, a picture-stealer who looks as if he is having the time of his life as an actor. It is a far different performance than the one we recently saw him give in “The Wife” as the egotistical husband of a thwarted woman played by Glenn Close. The new film is worth seeing just for Pryce’s work.
Driver is also excellent as the filmmaker swept into the new situation he encounters and becoming bewildered trying to get his work done in the midst of the mayhem that erupts. (One can currently also see Driver on the Broadway stage in “Burn This.”) Running through the film are, of course, parallels to themes of Cervantes filtered through Gilliam’s vision.
Personal relationships emerge, with Toby’s gross boss played by Stellan Skarsgard. There is a funny scene in which Toby is being seduced by the boss’s wife, played with horny intent by Olga Kurylenko, and the interruption by the sudden return of her husband as Toby flees.
Another key character is Angelica, an innkeeper’s attractive daughter, played with depth by Joana Ribeiro. Smitten by dreams of becoming an actress as a result of involvement with Toby and his student film, she has seen her ambitions shattered and we find her as the girlfriend of a super-wealthy, obnoxious Russian, who may remind us of the oligarchs we read about.
There are lavish party and religious sequences that are dazzling to watch, and tragedy occurs when Javier meets an accidental death. But before he dies Javier indicates that he may finally know he is not Quixote. It is amusing to see Toby undergo his own transformation, complete with a Sancho Panza.
“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” needs to be seen rather than described, as Gilliam’s work soars above the printed word. Remember that he comes from Monte Python fame, and that he has made such ambitious films as “Brazil,” “Time Bandits,” “Jabberwocky,” “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” “The Fisher king,” “Twelve Monkeys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
In 2002 I reviewed a film called “Lost In la Mancha” (See Search), about the failure to complete Gilliam’s Quixote extravaganza for a host of financial and casting reasons. How premature. Now that after Gilliam’s doggedness the film is actually with us, it stands as one of the most unusual screen entertainments of 2019 thus far, and offers delights for those who want to plunge into Gilliam’s intricate world to follow and analyze his take on the centuries-old work of the famed Miguel de Cervantes. An Alacran Pictures release. Reviewed April 19, 2019.