Monday, December 28, 2009

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Writer/Director Terry Gilliam once again takes us for a wild ride inside his imagination. His vehicle is a magic mirror that transports a person into the imagination of the title character, played to perfection by Christopher Plummer. Of course many will seek out this film to see Heath Ledger's last performance, not even being familiar with Mr. Gilliam's earlier work or fertile mind.

Mr. Ledger does not disappoint as Tony, a mysterious and loveable rogue, who becomes part of the Dr. Parnassus Traveling show. In a macabre twist, when we first see Tony, he is dangling from the end of a noose, apparently dead. Revived by Dr. P's daughter, Valentina and the two other members of the troupe, Percy and Anton, Tony begins to earn his keep by attracting a bigger audience to the show.

And what a show it is. As the audience members pass though the mirror and into the mind of Dr. P, the screen fills with wild visions as the souls of each person are tempted by both good and evil. The evil comes in the form of Mr. Nick, the devil himself, played with flair and malice by Tom Waits. Besides the star power, the rest of the cast is also quite good. Verne Troyer (known primarily for Mini-Me) shows versatility as Percy, Andrew Garfield is heroic as Anton, and Lily Cole is delightful as Valentina.

What has created the most interest for this film was how to complete Mr. Ledger's role since he passed before the film was done. Luckily, the film has the luxury of a magic mirror and sequences of imagination that allow Tony to be played by three different actors, each time he passes through. Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell each take turns playing Tony and the transformation works seamlessly in the context of the film. Mr. Depp and Mr. Law have the shorter scenes but do an admirable job keeping the character in synch. Mr. Farrell does a great job with the pivotal role of Tony in the last sequence.

Mr. Gilliam borrows from his earlier work with parts of the film resembling "The Fisher King" and even a nod to Monty Python with a dancing policemen bit. The film is a fanciful, trippy tale that will probably be best appreciated by Mr. Gilliam's fans but the pleasure of Mr. Plummer's performance as well as the "four Tonys" can appeal to anyone.

No comments: