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Brazil
1985 - R - 131 Mins.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Written By: Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katharine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Michael Palin
Review by: John Ulmer
   

I've got a splitting headache after watching this movie!
I don't like weird films. The bizarre and drug-induced type of haze has never interested me. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and such strange films are not my cup of tea. I recall reading Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" in the 10th grade -- I wasn't a fan of its odd narrative. I understood the point of the story, and Kafka is admirable and honorable, yes, but I just don't enjoy his writing.

And "Brazil" has the Kafkaesque narrative drive that I just don't appreciate. I looked forward to it for quite some time with much anticipation -- Robert De Niro in a supporting role with Jonathan Pryce, directed by Terry Gilliam ("Monty Python and the Holy Grail"), and co-scripted by Gilliam? A real treat!

I was wrong.

I found "Brazil" to be startlingly unfunny, quite flat, and very strange. This is the same type of "crazy" film I put in the same category as a mess like "Toys" or other such films. As I noted before, there's a very fine line between genius and stupidity. I guess I never crossed the line.

I find myself often agreeing with the nation's most popular critic, Roger Ebert, whom I have talked to in the past. We both share a love for the truly underrated and great comedy "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," and his choice to add it to his Great Movies List -- among such other classics as "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane" -- made me feel only greater respect for the man. With as many readers and fellow peers as he has, putting a 1980s comedy starring two mainstream comedians such as Steve Martin and John Candy may seem like a risky decision. (But he saw the genius of the film, like me and many other loyal fans.)

Ebert has been my primary influence as a critic, and though he's been coming under attack for "overrating" films lately, I realize that he grades on a more commercial scale than I do, and as great movies are rarer and rarer nowadays, he is hard-pressed to find truly great films. I doubt whether he would have given "xXx" 3/4 stars twenty years ago.

Why am I bringing up Roger Ebert into a discussion about "Brazil"? Because Ebert and I seem to share much of the same taste. He gave "Brazil" 2/4 stars. I agree with his analysis very much, although I gave "Brazil" 3/5 stars, only because I enjoyed a handful of scenes. I recommend it with a bare minimum of enthusiasm.

You may love "Brazil" if you enjoy pointless films with shallow psychological metaphors and so on. I found it pretty dull, and torturous to sit through at times. I didn't laugh once. Isn't it supposed to be a dark comedy? Well, it's dark.

The story is about a worker named Sam Lowry (Pryce), who exists in a futuristic hell and is sent into a downward spiral after becoming caught up in the affairs of a mysterious dream woman (Kim Griest) and a couple of mistaken identities involving a man named Harry Tuttle (De Niro).

The beginning of the film is fairly good, with good atmosphere and visual effects, but Gilliam soon takes us into the mind of Lowry halfway through the film, and it turns into a grim psychological thriller with a bunch of dead ends and forgotten ideas. Sam's dream sequences, which have him dressed in an angelic armor with big white-feathered wings, are beautiful to look at...but what else are they good for?

The film features an all-star cast, including Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, and of course Mr. Robert De Niro (who is second credited but does nothing but three or four brief cameos in the film). I suppose I wanted more humor and sense from this movie after seeing Gilliam's work on the Monty Python series of films. Now, I will freely admit that I saw the European version of "Brazil," which reportedly varies from the original US theatrical cut in a number of ways. There is an added sex scene, the ending is different (no clouds), and there are at least five scenes added to the version (it stands at some 140 minutes compared to the 131-minute US cut). So with that in mind, perhaps my analysis of "Brazil" is somewhat flawed. If the dream sequences are different than the US sequences, perhaps part of the effect has gone.

In fact, there are supposedly somewhere around 30 versions of the film out there, including a "happy" version aired on network television in the States (it reminds me of "Gremlins 2," when the announcer claims that "Casablanca" is now complete with "a happier ending."), and a 97-minute "Love Conquers All" version, handled carefully by Gilliam and available for the die hard fans on the soon-to-be-discontinued Criterion Collection DVD.

I have to ask myself, though, whether or not all that really matters. Some added scenes and altered dream sequences couldn’t be too terribly different from the US version, can they? Right?

"Brazil" is a film I would have to see again to form a solid opinion. Ebert saw it twice and still disliked it, but it's the type of film like "Adaptation" that I may enjoy the second time around since I'm fully prepared for what is about to happen and what it all means. But as it stands right now, I can't say that "Brazil" is anything more than a dizzying journey into a world reminiscent of a hellish nightmare, and I feel no great urge to see the film again.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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