Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown
Produced by: Arnon Milchan
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Ian Holm, Katherine Helmond, Michael Palin, Bob Hoskins, Robert DeNiro, Jim Broadbent
Studio: Universal Pictures
The title of Terry Gilliam's Brazil
promises exotic landscapes, beautiful scenery and danceable music, yet Gilliam provides an opposite experience, thus we feel a connection with the main character, Sam Lowry. Brazil
is nothing like the country and part of the reason it is named thus is because of the desirable nature of many who want to go the South American nation. Gilliam is intelligent in giving Brazil
a dark claustrophobic look as this is not a light story, but one filled with conflicts that Lowry must overcome in order to find his dream girl and leave his paperwork-obsessed world forever. More obvious is the use of the famous Ary Barroso song used in the film's soundtrack. Considered an un-official national anthem of the country, the jumpy tune is the lightest aspect of Brazil
, which works in contrast to the so-called utopia society. Thus, the audience plays into Gilliam's hand of wanting Lowry to escape. He intelligently withholds, but unlike Universal's ill-tempered boss, we're smart enough to realise just how necessary this is. Brazil
's inability to go to the "Bright Side of Life" is part of why it is such a marvelous piece of work.
The chaos in Brazil
begins when the ultimate attempt at perfection leads to a little typo. This tiny mistake leads to an innocent father getting arrested, a neighbour trying to get him out of the government's hold and a lowly government worker chasing after her. Terry Gilliam, an American who spent years in Great Britain with the Monty Python comedy troupe, uses his use of images and subtle nods to poke fun at the bureaucrats who rely on paperwork to try to keep everything ship-shape. There is also a sense of secrecy in the proceedings, particularly in Michael Palin's character, Jack. Throughout the film, we share Lowry's perspective that Jack is a good man, yet once his true job description is revealed, the audience is just as surprised as Lowry is. Part of this is not only through Palin's double-edged performance, but Jonathan Pryce's work as well. Pryce takes on the role of Lowry almost similar to how the most famous American everyman would have. From his stammering dialogue to the wardrobe, there's a hint of James Stewart coming from his performance. There's an honest appearance to him that sets him apart from the dark world around him as well as the humour around him. When he was with Monty Python, Gilliam's comedy writing was mostly used for his animated shorts, but with Brazil
, he became in command with most of the screenplay, creating a very humourous world. This makes the commentary on the dystopia of Brazil
have a rather fun angle to it as well. The pains of ordering a simple stake, the quest for the perfect face and the government's obsession with paper-work are taken on through not only serious prodding, but humourous pokes as well.
Terry Gilliam, like Tim Burton, has always a director with visual flair. Even when his films are less than average, his visual prowess allows them to be slightly more enjoyable. It is not surprising that his best film would feature some of his most accomplished visual look to date. From the look of the high-rises to the coldness of the government buildings to the duct-filled apartments, Brazil
features some of the most stunning art direction seen in any film. Brazil
was largely inspired by George Orwell's 1984
, yet Gilliam creates a world that the author probably never imagined. The sets in the film were probably even more influenced by the work of Georges Méliès than the writings of Orwell. Gilliam's animation style may be considered third-rate, but his visual effects are anything but. They are so well done that it is hard to figure out whether they were done on computers, stop-motion or puppetry. In fact, the realism of the special effects allows the viewer to be whisked easier into Lowry's dreams.
Along with Pryce and Palin, the rest of the cast succeeds in domineering their characters very well and understand that's Lowry's story. This class of highly accomplished actors know not to go over-board and bring the right level of humour and terror to their roles. Robert De Niro has a small, but important role that further alters Lowry's quest. Along with Lowry, he's the hero of the story and the calmness of De Niro combines well with the quick-witted work ethics of the character. Bob Hoskins takes on a more menacing role than he is known for, yet his sinister and almost scary tone creates Lowry's most memorable obstacle. And then there's Kim Greist, the main object of desire. What could have been a stereotypical female lead, Greist turns into a three-dimensional character that is the most cunning of the whole film. In fact, one wonders just how much she matches Lowry's dream girl. While, in that film, he does to save her and she cannot seem to get out of a situation, the real Jill is actually able to fend for herself in the tough world outside and is a more brave personality than Lowry. In the dreaded "Love Conquers All" version of Brazil
, Lowry has a happy ending with Jill. Yet, it is a more open ending than the Director's Cut, because their relationship could turn tired as Lowry might realise that she is not how he pictured her. It brings to mind whether humming to "Brazil" is more satisfying, which makes Sid Sheinberg's mind seem even more warped.
In the end, Terry Gilliam's preferred vision to the best edition of Brazil
and it certainly is a marvelous adventure. The humour and the social commentary, mixed with one of the most electrifying casts seen in a science-fiction comedy to date. Visually impressed and featured one of the greatest songs ever produced, Brazil
is an entertaining fantasy that tells as much about modern society as it was in 1985.
Bob Hoskins makes his entertaining appearance in Brazil.