Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Strong Violence
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Jim Broadbent
BRAZIL is George Orwell’s 1984 with a sense of humor. This is an overly comical view of a depressing industrial world where paperwork proceeds every tiny action. This is a bleak future where a totalitarian government monitors everything, keeps the public in a constant state of fear from supposed unseen terrorists, and specializes in making free-thinkers simply vanish in the blink of an eye. BRAZIL, much like 1984, strongly resembles some issues currently happening in various countries around the world. Besides maintaining some solid laughs throughout, the film also is unrelentingly dark and never loses focus of the story being told. This is the kind of science fiction satire that simultaneously made me laugh and want to cry from the dire circumstances unfolding before my eyes.
In a metallic-tinted bureaucratic-laced future, Sam Lowry lives a perfectly suitable existence in his meager position as a low-level government worker. He has frequent dreams about flying the skies and rescuing a beautiful girl he has never met before, but is completely content with his way of life. After a minor error is made in a typewriter that sends an innocent man to a horrible fate, Sam finds himself caught in the web of dangerous repercussions following that paperwork mistake and indeed trying to save the very girl of his dreams.
To give anything more specific away would spoil some of the fun. The plot of BRAZIL is at the same time overly complicated and extremely simple, much like the processing system of the asinine society running the show. The film also blends the dark nature of the plot with frequent laughs. One thing that should be noted about the tone is that it grows progressively more grim as things go along. The first 40 minutes are comedic genius and then things begin to get more twisted and serious. If you go into this film expecting an all-out comedic tour-de-force, then you’ll finish the experience mighty depressed from just how alike it is to 1984 (a story you really have to prep yourself for due to the sheer unrelenting bleakness of the content).
The real complaint I have about BRAZIL is that the movie comes close to wearing out its welcome on more than one occasion. There were some scenes that could have easily been cut. The film runs at over two hours (nearly two and a half if you’re watching the director’s cut). It’s not that things drag out to the point of being insufferable, but some sequences do seem to go on a bit too long. One thing that might annoy certain viewers, but I totally dug it was that lots of different variations of the song “Brazil” were used throughout the entire film. I know there was probably some other music in the score, but that piece of music (used hauntingly as the end credits roll) will forever stick out in my mind when this film is brought up in conversation. Some of the running gags (of which there are quite a few) work better than others, but I did appreciate that there were still some chuckles as the story tauntingly played with my emotions.
Terry Gilliam is known for being a visionary director and that’s certainly the case here. Every little detail added to the sets is well-realized. Little touches to this world only further enhance the sensation that I was looking into a vision of the future and what I saw made me wish that tomorrow would never come. The depressing roots of 1984, which Gilliam admitted to liberally borrowing from, are still very much intact in Gilliam’s vision of Orwell’s novel. In fact, I’d dare say that the final 30 minutes play out like one long extended nightmare that had me glued to the screen.
As far as the cast goes, there are some great performances and a notably mediocre one. Jonathan Pryce is a phenomenal lead and it helps that Sam Lowry is a likable character. He signifies a good man trying to keep his moral compass in a broken society, which makes his struggles all the more difficult to watch. Katherine Helmond, covered with layers of make-up, appears as Price’s mother at varying ages and a friend of hers provides one of the best recurring jokes throughout the film. Those interested in seeing younger versions of Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, and Ian Holm need look no further as they appear as a maintenance man, a plastic surgeon, and Price’s boss, respectively. Robert De Niro has a few scenes as a wanted would-be terrorist that are entertaining. The only real let-down is Kim Greist as Price’s love interest. I don’t know which direction to point the blame in. Her character isn’t exactly given a lot of development, but Greist doesn’t raise her above a one-note rebellious damsel-in-distress whom Price to trying to save.
BRAZIL may wind up pushing the time limit this story might have been told in (over two hours was a tad too long) and some jokes may fall flat, but it remains a wonderful classic dystopian future tale. One entirely forgettable love interest aside, the film is packed full of colorful characters and great performances. The contrast of dark material and quirky humor works wonders, though the humor really begins to disappear as the film reaches nightmarish levels in the final act. Gilliam’s unofficial adaptation of Orwell’s famous novel is weird, strange, oddly funny, and doesn’t skimp on the entirely grim subject matter within the book. I recommend bracing yourself for a tough, heady piece of art before sitting down to watch BRAZIL. This all being said, the film is phenomenal and comes highly recommended for those wanting something completely out of the ordinary.