Review of 'Brazil (Director's Cut)'

brazil.jpg In a dystopian future Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) works as a bureaucrat with the Ministry of Information. When a bug is introduced to the system (literally) a man is captured, tortured and killed for a crime he did not commit. The anguish of his widow leads Sam to question everything he thinks he knows. Meanwhile his heroic fantasies take a dramatic turn when the woman in his dreams shows up in real life. Determined to find her, Jill Layton (Kim Greist), Sam has his influential mother Ida (Katherine Helmond) arrange a posting to Information Retrieval where he will have access to the necessary records to finally track her down but the system has other ideas…

An incredible and imaginative piece of film-making by former-Python Terry Gilliam. This is Gilliam at the height of his artistic powers with a film full of quirky, intriguing thoughts and details. The mixture of obviously modern conveniences with steam-punk motifs lead to a striking assault on the senses - The garish lights in the manic city festooned with huge, grotesque, ducts that feed it's conveniences. The camera angles and framing compel the viewer to be drawn into this nightmare of a bureaucracy gone man where it is acceptable for the system to take a human life then bill their next of kin for the labour involved. Where someone seeking to help get around the system is branded a terrorist (a wonderful turn by Robert De Niro as the Central Services technician gone rogue, Harry Tuttle).

The effects in Brazil are stunning and hold up even against modern Hollywood Science Fiction blockbusters (though perhaps slightly more muted than if they were done today). The attention to detail is incredible with every detail thought out, from the posters on the walls to how people dress to how such a society would actually operate. Everything on the screen has been manufactured to draw us into the story in a real, visceral way. This is not a tidy, clean future but one that is full of contradiction and, well, signs of everyday wear.

Though originally cast with unknowns, these unknowns are now celebrity A-listers: Jonathan Pryce is the cool and content paper-pusher whose eyes are open to the evils of his world, chasing the woman of his dreams. He utterly convinces as the naive young man struggling to make sense of a world he thought he knew. Ian Holm as Sam's boss at the Ministry of Information, Mr. Kurtzmann, is a small, mouse like man who is content with his position in life not wanting to make any waves yet utterly dependant on Sam. Bob Hoskins as the technician Spoor from Central Services is determined to fix Sam's heating problem whether Sam likes it or not. His gruff yet bureaucratically constrained behaviour is perfectly nuanced and utterly amusing. While Michael Palin is a shockingly calm, cool torturer for Information Retrieval whose affable manor belies the brutal implementation of the cold bureaucratic mandate. This is, of course, delightfully against type for Plain which is all the more shocking for it. Even Jim Broadbent makes an appearance as the lovey-dovey plastic surgeon Dr. Jaffe who is treating Sam's mother, blinked solely to his profession. The scene where he is stretching her face is one that lives on in many clips from the film.

This film is pretty much known for the controversy that surrounded it. The story goes that it was a struggle for Terry Gilliam to get his vision of the film released with the studios wanting cuts Gilliam was unwilling to make that eventually resulted in a very public, and personal, dispute between Gilliam and Universal studios chairman Sid Sheinberg. The “Love Conquers All” version of “Brazil” was released that represented very much the opposite of what Gilliam wanted for the film including a “happy ending” which, notoriously, Gilliam's intended version of Brazil lacks (it is also 48 minutes shorter).

A word (or several) about the “Love Conquers All” version (which I have also viewed): It is awful. Disjointed, confusing, and, worst of all, devoid of any humanity. It is easy to see why Gilliam fought against it so vehemently.

Brazil is a film that, much like any other Gilliam film, has had a tortured past but stands as one of the best of all time with a striking story filled with irony, whit and humour. Sure the director's cut (which I would say is the only version to watch) is a bit long but what it has to say and how it says it is well worth the time.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2020-05-08

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Studio: Embassy International Pictures

Year: 1985

Length: 142 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction

Other reviewed films by Terry Gilliam: