Twelve Monkeys (1995)

Rates: * * * * 1/2

Why Did I Watch It? Favourite movie and kinda seemed like the time, what with Covid 19 and all.

Cast, crew, etc

In 2035 a killer virus has wiped out most of the Earth’s population, and driven the survivors underground. Bruce Willis, a resourceful prisoner with a short temper, is ‘volunteered’ for a dangerous mission: time travel back to the 90s, and trace the source of the outbreak. But the Strangelovian scientists who are in control of this future dystopia, are not as shrewd as they make out.

It is an interesting time to revisit Terry Gilliam’s imaginative sci-fi epic: while a real uncontrolled virus rages across most of the globe. I saw this in the cinema when it came out, loved it then, and it has held up very well, if suddenly seeming almost too close to home.

No director has quite the same visual expressiveness as peak-era Gilliam. The sets and costumes, even the askew way he places his camera, combine to provide a unique, and genuinely untamed, look. Willis’ distinctive anti-contamination suit is probably the most iconic object from this film, but the grim misery of the whole future world is protrayed with real flair: humans living in cages, the snow covered abandoned cities, the elevated interrogation chair. My DVD has a commentary track and I am excited to hear abut how they came up with all this stuff.

This is peak-era Willis as well. Add this to ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Nobody’s Fool’ the year before, and you could make a case that his best three, non ‘Die Hard’ performances all came within a year. He is really excellent here, equally adept at drooling incoherently, aggressively defending himself, and playing some light comedy moments with Madeline Stowe (also terrific). Brad Pitt is fun as well, in a showy performance that helped establish him as a more serious actor.

Based on Chris Marker’s famous short film ‘La Jetee’, this movie also manages to pull off the circular structure that many aspiring ‘clever’ films shoot for, and often fail at. I especially like the way Willis’ memories evolve, as the story progresses and he gets more info. You are never sure, exactly, what is real and what is not; much as the character is experiencing the reality around him. Credit to the script; co-written by David Peoples (writer of ‘Blade Runner’) and his wife Janet.

One of Gilliam’s best movies, and one of my favourite all time sci-fis:

We’re ALL monkeys.

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