I have heard countless people countless times offer their opinion on what they believe to be the greatest movie ever made. Most of these choices have their merits. Although I may argue over the particular choice, ultimately it is just an opinion. Some films however, when brought up in this ongoing debate, are difficult to dispute. Brazil is one of these pictures. The gonzo imagery, partnered with a spectacular script and equally impressive musical score, come together to make one of the most interestingly imaginative motion pictures ever made. It may not be my personal pick, but I respect everyone who claims it as his or her own.
From the very opening shot of Brazil the audience knows exactly what they are in for: A darkly comedic and twisted vision of the “future” as only director and writer Terry Gilliam can conceive. Of course as with any Gilliam film (The Life of Brian, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) the details of plot and character remain a mystery, but it is these details that make Brazil something truly special.
Gilliam, along with screenwriters Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Empire of the Sun) and Charles McKeown (The Adventures of Baron Manchaussen, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), have created a world very much inspired by George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-four and other works of dystopian fiction. While the novels that inspired the film may have more depth and a greater sense of purpose than Brazil, the film’s satirical elements are hard to top. The social commentary on regulation, big brother and consumerism that permeates the movie is more relevant now than even when it came out in 1985. Plastic surgery, cookie-cutter Christmas presents, and pointless bureaucratic paperwork are thoroughly, and effectively bashed. And of course ducts - those poor, poor ducts.
Trough out the film there is a certain artistry on display that carries Gilliam’s unmistakable signature assisted in no small part by Michael Kamen’s score. Kamen’s work (Die Hard, The Iron Giant) carries the emotional weight of the film, capable of lifting the spirit up while breaking one’s heart, while remaining constantly energetic. It’s actually a surprise that the Academy did not give him a nomination for his work here.
And the stellar cast gives a fine performance throughout. The sheer number of character actors in this movie is almost overwhelming with Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, and Jim Broadbent as standouts. Not to mention a hilarious (yet small) role for Robert De Niro. But unequivocally, it is Jonathan Pryce’s earnest, and relatable turn as the protagonist, Sam Lowery who seals the deal. Without his grounded portrayal of an everyday man the audience would not be able to relate to the sheer madness that is a Terry Gilliam world.
But perhaps the greatest contributing factor towards the overall style of the film is Director of Photography Roger Pratt. One of Gilliam’s regular cinematographers, Pratt really hit it out of the ballpark with this one. The interior scenes at Records and Information Retrieval are flat and gray, contributing greatly to the oppressive mood caused by excessive regulation and red tape. In contrast, the scenes set out in the city (the more financially well off portions at least), are full of Baroque stylings and neon-colored low-key lighting that heightens the commentary on consumerism to peak levels. And of course there is the Gilliam trademark of “dutch” angles and an overall bizarre placement of the camera. This is most certainly not your typical looking movie.
While some may be put off by the absurdity on hand here, fans of the gonzo are all but required to enjoy. Which is just the audience Gilliam is going for after all. What else would you expect form an alumnus of Monty Python’s Flying Circus? So, check your concepts of reality and typical filmmaking at the door and get ready for something completely different.