Film Review – The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2020)

For those who have been unfamiliar with the long-gestating passion project of director Terry Gilliam, let’s just say it has been a mission as treacherous and precarious an odyssey as one that Quixote and his partner Sancho Pansa may have undertaken themselves. Years of planning, financiers coming in and then falling out, storms of biblical proportions and countless different cast ensembles have finally aligned perfectly for the fantastical filmmaker and his vision has been realised.

Driver plays Toby Grisoni, an advertising director whose latest venture brings him back into the world of Don Quixote, having made a version of the story for his student film during his university days and cast local shoemaker Javier (Jonathan Pryce) in the lead role. However, in the years between, Javier’s immersion in the role has led him to believe that he actually is Quixote – and that Toby, returning to the local town during filming, is Sancho Pansa.

Their meeting sees them transported into a dreamlike environment that feels very much like a classic Quixote setting in the past, but every know and then they drop into reality. Is this real-life or is this just fantasy?

Gilliam had always been fascinated with Quixote – a moniker that many have given the director over the years – and whilst his film isn’t a straight adaptation of the text, its spirit, whimsy and fantastical elements still remain in its blood.

As with many of his films, the cinematography and production design are absolutely wonderful but this one feels a little lost for the most part, with the continuous genesis and stop/start nature seems to have diluted Gilliam’s vision and it really struggles to get going. While this is a Quixote tale in many ways, Grisoni and Gilliam take a few stabs at the actual filmmaking process along the way, with jokes about storms, planes, insurers and producers, all of which have played their part in the film’s gestation.

Driver and Price, both recently nominated for Best Actor Oscars, both perform decently enough but they too seem to be all at sea for the most part, trying desperately to cling to the weak and scattered story.

Driver, in particular, feels a little miscast, unable to true grasp where his character should sit in this extraordinary, otherworldly universe.

Indeed, the film sadly isn’t particularly funny either – it’s broad, theatrical nature should have us rolling in the aisles but it falls flat for the most part, with only those aforementioned pokes at the art of cinema really landing.

So, after decades of will he/won’t he, Gilliam has finally made the film he wanted but despite its best intentions (as well as huge amounts of good will), this one as with many of this back catalogue will divide opinion. Ours? Well, it’s pleasant enough in parts and the visual style is all encompassing but on the whole it doesn’t quite work despite some flashes of brilliance.


Drama, Comedy | UK, 2018 | 15 | 31st January 2020 (UK) | Sparky Pictures | Dir.Terry Gilliam | Jonathan Pryce, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgård, Olga Kurylenko, Joana Ribeiro, Jordi Mollà

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