Monday, August 18, 2014
The Fisher King
Directed by Terry Gilliam and written by Richard LaGravenese, The Fisher King is the story of a once famous radio shock-jock who seeks to find redemption when he meets a man whose life he ruined and tries to help him. The film is the first of an unofficial trilogy set in America from Gilliam as it explores not just the world of fantasy but also in finding hope in the bleakest forms of reality. Starring Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer, and Michael Jeter. The Fisher King is a dazzling yet heartfelt film from Terry Gilliam.
Three years after being responsible for the deaths of a group of people by a madman who later killed himself, a radio shock jock meets a strange man whose wife was killed at that restaurant who seeks the Holy Grail and the love of a shy woman as the shock jock decides to help him in an act of redemption. While it is a simple tale of redemption, the film is also a mixture of adventure, fantasy, and romance as it would play into the world of Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) who lost so much through his own actions as his encounter with this homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams) would play into the chance to become a better person while help this lost man regain something that he had lost following his wife’s death. In the process, Jack would also reluctantly help Parry in his quest to find the Holy Grail in the home of a rich architect as Parry believes in this legend of the Grail.
Richard LaGravenese’s screenplay definitely has this air of fantasy and romance but it is also balanced by this world of cynicism as the film opens with Jack as this very arrogant and snide radio shock-jock who talks a lot of shit and has everything until he is responsible for prompting a man to go after a waitress that unfortunately led to a killing spree where Parry’s wife was among the people who were killed. Jack loses his fame as he is wracked with guilt where he would live with a video store owner in Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) who would prompt Jack to do something as she would also help him to Parry back on track. Especially as it relates to Parry’s attraction to this shy publishing accountant in Lydia (Amanda Plummer) through the craziest means.
One aspect of the script that definitely succeeds isn’t just the stories but how fully-realized the characters are as Parry was also a man who had everything only to lose it because of a tragedy as those reminders would come to him in the form of a red knight that only he can see. Especially as it would prompt Jack to realize the greater task that he needs to retrieve the Grail with Parry as well as getting the chance to prove that he can be redeemed no matter how many times he says that he is a fuck-up. The unlikely teaming of Jack and Parry isn’t just one aspect of the story that is so compelling but it’s also one where a man tries to help another and vice versa as they both would try to deal with the demons that had been haunting them.
Terry Gilliam’s direction is truly astonishing not just in its sense of style but also in the fact that he is able to mix a sense of realism with fantasy as it’s set entirely in New York City. The film has Gilliam infusing a lot of unique camera angles including some slanted shots and elaborate crane shots. Even in some of the intimate moments where the sense of style is very evident but not very distracting. Gilliam does go for something simple in the way he presents the drama as it relates to Jack’s own life as he struggles with his guilt and what his life has become despite the support of Anne. There are scenes that do feel quite unsettling and real such as the homeless places near the Brooklyn Bridge as well as some very exhilarating scenes at Central Park where Parry tries to convince Jack to lie naked in the middle of the park to watch the moonlight.
The direction also has Gilliam play with the world of fantasy though it’s more restrained in comparison to his other films such as this lavish waltz scene in the middle of Grand Central Terminal as it plays to Parry’s own sense of fantasy. The scenes involving the Red Knight also play into that sense of fantasy but as a form of reality that Parry wants to avoid as Gilliam would go for something that feels very dizzying. Even as some of the wide shots and compositions would have something that feels like a world that is very different. All of which would play into this climax in this very odd journey to get the Holy Grail as it seems like this strange task but one that would help Jack and Parry find hope in their troubled lives. Overall, Gilliam creates a sensational yet touching film about a man finding redemption in helping another man who was destroyed by tragedy.
Cinematographer Roger Pratt does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography as it is very straightforward but also stylish in some of the lighting schemes that Pratt creates for some of the nighttime exteriors as well as some of the interior scenes. Editor Lesley Walker does incredible work with the editing as it‘s very stylized with some jump-cuts, montages, and a stylish use of transition wipes for a dinner scene with the four principle characters. Production designer Mel Bourne, with set decorator Cindy Carr and art director P. Michael Johnston, does amazing work with the set pieces from the video store that Anne runs to the accounting firm and hospital rooms as well as the castle where the Grail is.
Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor does terrific work with the costumes from the ragged look of Parry in his homeless clothes to the white suit he would wear in his date with Lydia. The visual effects work of William Cruse and Kent Houston do nice work with some of the effects as it’s very minimal including the design of the Red Knight. Sound editor Peter Pennell and sound designer Bill Kates do superb work with the film‘s sound in some of the sound textures to play into the sense of terror that Parry would endure as well as the sounds of radio broadcasts that Jack used to do. The film’s music by George Fenton is excellent for its broad and operatic score as it has some very lush orchestral themes to play into the sense of romance as well as bombastic pieces for the adventurous moments. The film’s music soundtrack includes a mix of music ranging from pop standards and modern music like Ray Charles, Chill Rob G, and Harry Nilsson.
The casting by Howard Feuer is great as it features notable small roles from Kathy Najimy as a crazed video store customer, Tom Waits as a disabled veteran, Harry Shearer as a TV star that Jack despises, Lara Harris as Jack’s girlfriend when he was famous, and David Hyde Pierce as Jack’s agent Lou. Michael Jeter is fantastic as a homeless cabaret singer Jack and Parry would meet as they would help him to reach a message to Lydia. Amanda Plummer is amazing as the very shy and socially-awkward Lydia who has her own quirks and insecurities where her date with Parry would bring her hope about her own life. Mercedes Ruehl is phenomenal as Anne as this no-nonsense woman who hopes to be more than a friend to Jack as she would also help Lydia and Parry as it’s a truly touching and powerful supporting performance.
Jeff Bridges is brilliant as Jack Lucas as this man who had it all only to be undone by a tragedy that he unknowingly caused as he tries to find redemption where it’s Bridges showing some humility as well as an ugliness but also a role that has him be sympathetic as he wants to right the wrongs in his life. Finally, there’s Robin Williams in a magnificent performance as Parry as this very troubled man who has lost himself as he becomes homeless and seeks the Holy Grail as Williams brings a sense of energy in his humor as well as sense of warmth and vulnerability. Especially in his moving monologue to Lydia about what he wants to do as it showcases Williams’ power as an actor where he can blend comedy and drama and do it so easily.
The Fisher King is a remarkable film from Terry Gilliam that features great performances from Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, and Mercedes Ruehl. The film is definitely Gilliam’s most accessible work in its blend of romance and fantasy as well as a compelling story on redemption. Even as it features moments that are quite crazy that is balanced with stories about characters trying to find hope again. In the end, The Fisher King is an outstanding film from Terry Gilliam.
Terry Gilliam Films: Jabberwocky - Time Bandits - Brazil - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 12 Monkeys - Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas - The Brothers Grimm - Tideland - The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - The Zero Theorem - The Auteurs #38: Terry Gilliam
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