Thursday, September 18, 2014

Recommended!: The Fisher King (1991)

Jeff Bridges is Jack, an abrasive DJ whose comments drive one unstable listener into a rage that leaves eight people dead. Three years later a strung-out Jack is offered a shot at redemption by Parry (Robin Williams), a twitchy homeless person whose psychological imbalance has direct roots in the rage Jack unleashed those years ago. And so the two men navigate the urban jungle of New York City in search of a Holy Grail that may not even exist, and Jack finds that maybe even the prospect of human connection and real love might not be enough to pull Parry away from the abyss.

It's unmistakably a Terry Gilliam film, rife with many of his overt and distinct visual flourishes: a red knight that torments Parry seems to have stepped straight out of Jabberwocky, while the corporate interiors could have been sets left behind from Brazil. But for all of its visual splendor and quirky wackiness I don't remember the humanity of Gilliam's characters ever being so keenly felt. Though Williams' gifts for improvisation and riffing are evident throughout, they're attached to a noticeably fractured psychology and leavened with tangible emotional pain. Though Bridges' role is rife with potential as nothing but a foil for Williams' inventions, he too invests Jack with palpable humanity, the stunted energy of a soul in progress. The female characters could have been nothing but love interests, but Mercedes Ruehl's street smarts make her possibly the movie's most engaging character, and Amanda Plummer's studied, focused disheveledness gives way to a blossoming and gorgeous personhood fueled by Parry's love.

Credit for all of this perhaps rests in a smart early script from filmmaker Richard LaGravenese; his script has more overtly fantastic leanings than most of his works that offer more than enough grist for Gilliam's usual visual attack. But Gilliam and his fine, fine actors all latch onto the volumes of humanity (not to mention the humor, leavened generously throughout this dark, dark story) in LaGravenese's characters. The Fisher King isn't a movie that seems to loom large in the resumes of its creators, but deserves our attention. And it stands as one of the finest, most shaded performances by the late Robin Williams. We were fortunate to see it theatrically; if you can't see it that way, it is available on line, and awaits your eyes.

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