The tumultuous production was even the subject of a feature-length documentary…in 2002.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni
Starring Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Joana Ribeiro, Olga Kurylenjo, Stellan Skarsgard, Jordi Molia, Oscar Jaenada
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was finally released in 2018, a minor miracle unto itself. Director Terry Gilliam had been trying to get the damn thing made for 25 years, only to be continually thwarted by development hell, false starts, budget problems, legal issues, natural disasters, cast changes and no-small-amount of his own obsessiveness. The tumultuous production was even the subject of a feature-length documentary…in 2002.
Though he kept busy making many films in the interim, Gilliam is probably glad to finally scratch this particular itch…if nothing else, just to spite everyone who turned his labor of love into a decades-long debacle. Some of you reading this might be asking if it was worth the all the trouble, which isn’t really a fair question. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will probably never fully escape the shadow of its production history, and that’s a shame because – baggage notwithstanding – this is ultimately a very good film. Even great in parts.
It helps, of course, if the viewer is already in tune with Gilliam’s quirkier tendencies, since this modern day variation of Cervantes’ novel is a strange, surreal and often funny journey. Anyone familiar with the director is also aware he can be pretty self-indulgent, unconcerned whether or not others are on-board. Because of their unique aesthetic, narrative approach and abundance of dark humor, Terry Gilliam films could be considered their own little genre. Viewed in that context, this is his best work since 12 Monkeys.
That’s not to say The Man Who Killed Don Quixote isn’t without its issues, the main one being that it’s overlong. The story also gets off to a shaky start, with commercial director Tobi Grisoni (Adam Driver) embodying just about every burned-out-genius cliché we’ve ever seen. In fact, these early scenes don’t even feel like they belong in a Gilliam film. However, once Tobi visits the village where he once made a student film about Don Quixote, the film really takes off, both visually and narratively. He’s reacquainted with the elderly cobbler he cast in the lead (Jonathan Price), who has since become convinced he is Quixote and thinks Tobi is Sancho Panza. Several amusing circumstances have the two of them ending up on an episodic series of bizarre adventures, which eventually includes trying to rescue the young girl he once cast in the same film, Angelica (Joana Jaenada), now working as an escort working for a vicious Russian magnate.
That’s the nuts & bolts plot, but what makes it memorable is Gilliam’s penchant for blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Lavishly-produced, the film is alternately dark and whimsical, bolstered by interesting characters and some wonderful moments that unexpectedly transition into the surreal. Most importantly, the journey ends up being lot of fun, something this writer hasn’t been able to say about a Terry Gilliam film in a long time.
Ironically, for a movie with such a torrid past, this Blu-ray features no substantial bonus features covering its history. Perhaps that’s intentional, since enough has already been written and said about it. Besides, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote deserves to be enjoyed on its own merits. It may not rank among Terry Gilliam’s best work, but it’s a fine reminder that he’s got some juice left in the tank.