Release Date: February 20th, 1985 (France)
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist
Embassy International Pictures, Brazil Productions, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, 142 Minutes
Brazil is one of those movies that after you see it, you can’t get it out of your head.
The film follows Jonathan Pryce’s Sam Lowry, as he goes through his humdrum mediocre life in his industrial dystopia. He discovers that the government made an error in capturing who they suspect is a terrorist. The man they caught is killed and his family is left in serious distress. Lowry is tasked with resolving the error. In the process however, he sees a woman that looks like the mysterious girl he’s been dreaming about. The woman, Jill Layton (played by Kim Greist), is also trying to get to the bottom of the government’s mistake, as she is the neighbor of the victim’s family. Lowry obsesses over the woman and does everything he can, putting himself at risk, to prove the government’s mistake. The government, not privy of having its flaws exposed, responds with an iron fascist fist.
This is one of Terry Gilliam’s most critically-acclaimed films alongside The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 12 Monkeys and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It is also the one that was the most influential on other filmmakers. The visual style and other elements have gone on to inspire Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro, the Coen brothers, Alex Proyas, Tim Burton, Darren Aronofsky and Zack Snyder.
The film is similar to 1984 in its subject matter. However, it has a comedic twist and more action. The comedy is a mixture of satire and slapstick and it works really well for the picture. The action sequences are executed nicely, especially the fantasy segments pulled from Lowry’s dreams. Overall, the film is a surrealist playground with stellar set design, costumes and cinematography.
The acting is also pretty superb. While De Niro is in this, he only has a few scenes, despite being billed pretty high. It is refreshing to see De Niro play a character that isn’t just Robert De Niro, like all of his later films.
Despite the talent in this film, though, I thought that Kim Greist just couldn’t cut it as Jill. Apparently, Terry Gilliam felt the same way, as her scenes and screen time were cut down in the editing room. She delivered lines like a B-movie actress and just felt out of place, sticking out like a sore thumb while playing off of the incredible Pryce.
The only other complaint I have, is running time. I feel like some sequences were too drawn out. The film had an uneven pace at times but its positives far outweigh its negatives and I don’t want to be nitpicky for the sake of nitpicking.
Ultimately, Brazil is a fantastic dystopian fantasy and some of Gilliam’s best work. The performance by Jonathan Pryce was so good, that because of this film, I always light up when I see him pop up in other pictures.