Review of '12 Monkeys'

12_monkeys.jpg So this is what happens when Terry Gilliam goes “main stream”…

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a convict in a prison of a post-apocalyptic future Earth. The surface now is inhospitable to human life and has been reclaimed by animals that are studied by the survivors. In an effort to find information about a mysterious group called the “12 Monkeys” they believe released the plague upon the planet that killed 5 billion people in 1996, Cole is sent back in time but accidentally arrives in 1990 where he is promptly arrested and committed to an asylum. In the institution he is befriended by the certifiably insane Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who eventually helps him escape. Cole eventually kidnaps his psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) to solicit her help and explain himself. Disappearing just before he is re-arrested in 1990 he returns to the future where he is once again sent back in time this time first accidentally to the trenches of World War 1 then 1996 where his psychiatrist has started to believe his story and they go in search of the “12 Monkeys” but can they save the human race more importantly, which of them is insane? What is really going on?

I can't see how anyone watching this film will walk out understanding exactly what happened. I have watched it a number of times over the year and still second guess any interpretation I have that makes any sense. Indeed, Gilliam himself says he loves making films that demand to be watched again and again with each watch revealing something new whether that is with the detail or in understanding just what the heck is going on…

The film-making is typically Terry Gilliam with wild camera angles, bizarre imagery, full-on performances from the cast and an intriguing story. Willis here plays against type (when 12 Monkeys was being filmed he was staring as the action hero John McCain in Die Hard) showing us a weak and often flawed character yet one with a great deal of passion. For those who like these things (!) Willis is seen several times nude from behind – further emphasising his vulnerability and supporting his portrayal of Cole. Pitt's performance is truly astounding as the psychotic Goins - Intense and deeply disturbing complete with manic, and frenetic movements all while speaking a mile a minute. This when contrasted with Willis' subdued performance as a drugged Cole utterly dominates the screen. Stowe as Cole's psychiatrist provides a note of sanity to the insanity of the world and people around her. It is these performances that work so well within the whimsical story and Gilliam's incredible sets.

This film will not appeal to those that want a light and easy to understand film but for those that love film-making and revel in films that challenge you this will be a film you end up watching again and again – As with many of Gilliam's works. Yes, the story is confusing and defies any sort of classification but many would find this compelling. The performances are incredibly intense and the sets wonderful.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2019-05-08

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Studio: Universal Pictures

Year: 1995

Length: 129 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction

Other reviewed films by Terry Gilliam: