More noise than signal

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

There’s a history to this film. A long one. So much so that if we delve into it we’ll be here all day, and we’ve covered a lot of that previously when talking about Lost in La Mancha back in our Films on Films episode. So let’s just say it’s storied, and full of disappointment for Terry Gilliam. It’s a pleasure then, that it’s finally finished, and yet somehow unsurprising that legal wrangling entirely ruined its release.

The full story is much more complex, but so is the plot summary, so I’ll crack on with that. Hollywood’s favourite entirely computer generated character, Adam Driver, here plays Toby Grisoni, an obnoxious commercial director struggling to shoot an ad featuring Don Quixote and Sancho Panza out in the Spanish sticks. He’s lorded over by the Boss (Stellan Skarsgård), and lusted after by the Boss’s wife, Olga Kurylenko’s Jacqui.

Chancing upon an exceedingly rare copy of a student film he shot in a small village in the area some ten years ago called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Toby is inspired to head over and see what’s happened there since. It is not altogether positive on a number of levels, or any level, really, but chiefly the concern here is about noted non-Spaniard Jonathan Pryce’s shoemaker Javier, who now fully believes himself to be the Don Quixote that Toby cast him as all those years ago.

Through some hijinks that would, I feel, be a little too convoluted to explain, Toby finds himself a suspect in a police investigation into a fire he and Javier unwittingly cause and winds up on the run with Javier, who believes Toby to be his squire Sancho Panzer. In a combination of flashbacks, real time and fever dreams, we will tease out more of the characters and events of all involved, particularly Toby’s involvement with Joana Ribeiro’s Angelica, a village young girl at the time of the previous film that’s had a troubled life since, now finding herself in an abusive relationship with the very same Russian magnate that Toby’s boss is trying to ingratiate himself with.

It took me little while to warm to this film. If I’m honest, after the first half hour, 45 minutes or so, I was rather fearing the worst, but in what appears to be the inverse of most critical opinion, the longer and more outlandish it got, the more invested I was in it, and while it’s not the masterpiece the gestation period would perhaps demand it be, it’s nonetheless a very solidly enjoyable film.

Price and Driver are excellent, as are all of the supporting cast, and as you’d perhaps expect from Gilliam, his imagination conjures up some exceptional imagery. I do feel a little cheated about not having had a chance to see this in a cinema – I think more so than any number of blockbusters, this would have benefited from a grander canvas than my telly can provide, given how the epic sweeps of the story and landscape are combined.

I shan’t witter on too much, other than to say by the end my doubts were vanquished and I was quite touched by the ending. Certainly one of the most distinctive films I’ve seen this year and a must-see for anyone interested in Gilliam’s body of work. Of course, it would have been, regardless of quality, but I’m pleased to report that it’s a pleasure and not a chore.