Twelve Monkeys Review
Based on the slideshow-style short, La Jetée, Twelve Monkeys is one of the best examples of a simple idea being put to fantastic use. Now, it is difficult to explain even that simple concept without giving away too much of the excellent narrative, but I shall do my best to tailor this review for all readers - both those familiar and unfamiliar with the movie. That said, I would strongly recommend anybody who has not seen the film to stop reading and do so first - trust me, it is well worth your time.
Cole is a troubled man. A convict from a dystopic future, he is sent back in time to gather information with a view to saving the human race, but instead finds himself trapped in a mental institute where his prophecies only enhance his apparent insanity. There he meets a female doctor who wants to believe his fantastical stories, and a fellow mental patient who may or may not hold the key to his escape... and maybe even more. This is the basic premise (excluding any references to La Jetée which would give away the magnificently built-up multiple twists ending of the movie) but what makes it genius is the way in which Gilliam makes the movie utterly fantastical. So much so that you even start to question whether it is all just the mad ravings of a lunatic with a fertile imagination. The end result keeps you guessing all the way through and it is only as the credits roll that you are likely to be able to start putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together in your mind. It is an absorbing journey that makes a very good movie.
Gilliam is, of course, helped no end by a great cast headed up by Bruce Willis. Recently, Willis' fiftieth birthday heralded some fantastic news - he is once again going to don his dirty vest in a fourth instalment of the benchmark Die Hard action trilogy. He has been in the process of making something of a comeback ever since his turn in the superior military action drama Tears of the Sun. His decent thriller, Hostage (based on an even better book) and a stereotyped but nevertheless good part in the excellent Sin City (which also marks Mickey Rourke's long-overdue return to magnificent form) have cemented this comeback, but Die Hard 4.0 should seal the deal.
Back in his glory days, however, Mr Willis managed to secure a role as Cole in Gilliam's unusual psychological sci-fi drama. Given Gilliam's film history - and he is probably most well known for his fantastic Monty Python animations - you would be forgiven for assuming that any role in one of his movies simply had to be unusual for a 'straight' actor to take up. However Gilliam's choice of actors for parts is more strategic than that. He is quite prepared to play to actor's strong points (like DeNiro's turn in Brazil which was strictly by-the-numbers) as well as making actors do something wildly different from what we are used to (Michael Palin's evil against-the-type part in the same aforementioned film, Brazil). Here he once again completely reverses the table on the audience, nominally for interest value, and makes Bruce behave extremely out of character for a man renowned as John 'Die Hard' McClane.
Willis isn't the only one who got to show his versatility in this movie, for we also get Brad Pitt acting very strangely indeed. For fans of Mr. Pitt, his behaviour here may not seem all that unusual, but if you consider some of his roles prior to Twelve Monkeys - Thelma and Louise, True Romance, Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall - you can see that his performances never had the kind of energy and frenzy that we have seen in him since 12 Monkeys. As a fellow asylum inmate of Willis' character Cole, Pitt talks jarringly fast, using frantic hand movements and generally manic behaviour to capture the essence of this unusual role. And the months in training for the part have clearly paid off, as he is remarkably convincing.
Madeleine Stowe plays it much more naturally as the psychologist involved in the study of their supposedly insane people. A vastly underused actress, she is perfectly suited to the role even if it is not particularly demanding for her. We also get a brief and poorly accented cameo by Christopher Plummer (Wolf, National Treasure) and a small but integral role for David Morse (Proof of Life). 12 Monkeys is a rich and vibrant fantasy adventure with a sharp psychological edge. Fans of the actors involved will be surprised by the performances given and should be amazed once again by Gilliam's fantastic vision. It is a film worthy of acclaim and comes recommended.