The Man Who Killed Don Quixote Review
They say timing is everything and where some are ahead of the curve, others only catch on as it happens, while the rest are left trailing behind. 31 years after Gilliam seemed to give up the ghost on his fabled Don Quixote film, it has finally seen the light of day and his 13th feature seems to fall squarely in-between the latter two of the aforementioned camps. Naturally it doesn’t feel like the film he would’ve made back in 1989, and while far from a disaster, watching it there's an unshakeable sense that the moment for his interpretation has long passed and the story behind the original production will forever remain of more interest.
Think of any artist who grapples with the same project for too long and invariably the end result is usually a mess. Although, Gilliam’s films have always marched under a disjointed anarchy that causes them to career wildly between wondrous filmmaking and head-scratching confusion. In that respect, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is no different and is very much a film of his making. The sense of adventure that has driven his work since his Monty Python days is still very much alive, as are the bloated elements his narratives so often struggle to overcome.
Gilliam takes a metatextual approach to Miguel de Cervantes’s classic 16th century novel, with the deluded knight (Jonathan Pryce) constantly set-up to fail his many quests accompanied by his trusty donkey-riding sidekick, Sancho (Adam Driver). When first introduced, Driver is self-centred director Toby, who is filming a Don Quixote-themed TV ad out in the picturesque Spanish countryside. He realises it is close-by to the village where he made the student film about Quixote that brought him to fame, and he stumbles across the man who played the knight only to find he now lives and breathes as the character.
One ridiculous thing leads to another and before you know it Toby is forced on the run with Quixote, who believes the director to be his long-lost companion, Sancho. From there it becomes a long, absurd and messy adventure with the likes of Stellan Skarsgård and Olga Kurylenko popping up in some of the minor roles. The cast is the main reason this holds together, turning an unwieldy script into something far more palatable. Gilliam struck gold with the casting of Driver, an actor in his prime who shows his versatility with some great comic timing. Pryce’s hammy acting, over-enunciation and sense of self-worth (and pity) also brings out the traits of a man who at heart is suffering from mental health issues his village friends are desperate to help cure.
Imagination has never been in short supply for Gilliam, but the same can’t be said for his quality control. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote runs for two hours and fifteen minutes and often feels like it. The two leads create some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, although much of the humour misses the mark (it could do without the lazy Muslim suicide bomb gags). The film within a film idea is a smart way to address the elephant in the room regarding the Gilliam’s history with the material, and he reflects on the many battles he has experienced throughout his career with producers, investors, studio execs and the like. Given his age and the fact he has finally lifted this artistic millstone from around his neck, it’s difficult to see Gilliam gathering up the energy to go again, and in many ways this jumble of ideas feels like the perfect way for his career to come to a close.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote charges into select UK cinemas on January 23rd