Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Terry Gilliam Grabs the Spotlight in 'The Fisher King,' the Director Uses a Cartoonish Approach to Address Difficult Social Issues. FILM COMMENTARY: TWO VIEWS

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Terry Gilliam Grabs the Spotlight in 'The Fisher King,' the Director Uses a Cartoonish Approach to Address Difficult Social Issues. FILM COMMENTARY: TWO VIEWS

Article excerpt

TERRY GILLIAM used to be a cartoonist, best known for the zany animations he cooked up for "Monty Python's Flying Circus" on television. After leaving the British comedy troupe, he became a feature filmmaker, switching to live performers but keeping his cartoonish approach. Gilliam pictures like "Time Bandits" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" could be called live-action animations, putting real people in settings and situations as outlandish as any pen-and-ink creation could offer.

What makes Mr. Gilliam different from most movie cartoonists, however, is his outspoken interest in social issues. His best film, "Brazil," is a tragicomic outcry against tendencies of modern culture that Gilliam thinks are leading to disaster. "The Fisher King," carries this tendency further, filling the screen with the most wretched members of an overstressed modern city.

One main character, played by Jeff Bridges, is a radio talk-show host who's on the skids after one of his monologues drove a listener to murder and suicide. The other hero, played by Robin Williams, is a sidewalk schizophrenic whose voices are telling him to steal a trophy (he thinks it's the Holy Grail) from the home of a billionaire he's never met. The women of the story include a jaded video-store proprietor (Mercedes Ruehl) and a shy accountant (Amanda Plummer). Gilliam uses these people to illustrate his conception of the best and worst in human beings. They're full of everyday callousness, yet they're also capable of amazing kindness - at least, when there's no way to avoid it.

"The Fisher King" has moments of great visual energy and imagination, especially in the first half-hour or so.

Gilliam and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese seem to be motivated by genuine social and political concern, moreover, when they punctuate the action with searing views of poverty and homelessness - insisting that movies don't have to be escapist havens. …

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