|Johnny Depp's such a prick, using his two minutes of screen time to prove to the world he's a better actor than Heath Ledger (RIP, we miss you).|
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Gilliam pulls it out of the shitter
by Ian "ProfessorClumsy" Maddison
Everybody agrees that Terry Gilliam is one of the great auteurs of our time, but his actual works tend to split critical response down the middle. Mixed reviews of Doctor Parnassus haven't dampened my spirit, nor has the advertising campaign playing up the appearance of Johnny Depp. I just can't not be excited about this.
Allow me to pick my jaw up from off the floor and push my eyeballs back into my head before I wax lyrical about the sumptuous visual feast that is The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The film charts the tale of a monk keen on the prospect of immortality -- the titular Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) -- and his wager with the devil (a scenery-chewing Tom Waits) to be the first to attain five souls for ownership of Parnassus' daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), who is sought romantically by the resident prancing prick Anton (Andrew Garfield). Add to this mix the mysterious Tony (Heath Ledger) who holds as many secrets as the devil himself, and things get very interesting indeed. Not to mention the Imaginarium itself, a realm of wonders that exists in the mind of Doctor Parnassus and is accessed via an unremarkable looking magic mirror.
It's a slow and somewhat confusing build-up, with the opening sequence showing a drunken lout being led to damnation, taking a little too long to get to the point. Also, it is altogether too long before Ledger makes his appearance and the story starts to unfold, but when it does there is a surprising depth behind the spectacular visuals as well as a lot of humour, most of it coming from Plummer's drunken fumblings and Waits' devil, who charts whole new frontiers of craziness.
Let's not forget the inimitable Heath Ledger himself; watching him here felt somewhat tragic, knowing he'd never act again. Did I say inimitable? Well, his death almost put a halt to this film, but Gilliam has cleverly replaced him in three pivotal sequences inside the Imaginarium by calling on the talents of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Depp has little to do, even though he is all over the advertising. Law manages to be the most entertaining of the bunch by far, but it is Farrell who takes the biggest job, essentially carrying the film's entire third act. These replacements have been so carefully integrated, it's hard to imagine they weren't always intended to be there.
Gilliam might well be the great divider -- the world hasn't agreed on any of his films since Brazil -- but on this occasion I'm rallying to his side. From a slightly weak and overwrought beginning grows one of the richest, most entertaining films of the year.
RATING (OUT OF 5):
As the 19th century diver approaches a giant clam, a flash of brilliant golden light flares from within the shell. I emerge in a swirl of bubbles and do the timeless universal underwater hand signals for the following: ZODIAC KILLER, KKK, BLOOD OF YOUTH
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