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Terry Gilliam's fantastic, twisted story of a virus destroying all but a
handful of people across the Earth and forcing them to move underground
the man sent back in time to gather information about it is a fantastic,
dizzying, and highly stylized film that boasts Bruce Willis' best
What sets 12 Monkeys apart from most time-travel sci-fi movies is that Bruce Willis character actually deals with what the psychological effects of time-travel, that is, not knowing what reality is actual reality: the place that the time-traveler comes from or goes to. Also, the film recognizes that things that have past cannot be altered and that the prevention of a cataclysmic event, in this case the release of said virus, cannot be stopped or changed. As Willis asserts "It's already happened," while he's in a mental hospital, the major dilemma the film trudges into is not a trite, overdone plot to save the world; instead it's Willis' inner struggle to simply survive himself. It's a fresh, innovative concept, and it works beautifully thanks to a tautly written script by Peoples and Gilliam's unique brand of dementia.
Besides this, 12 Monkey's storytelling is totally non-linear and instead opts to distort and bend the way the story is told skillfully incorporating a bevy of different time sequences: flashbacks, dreams, memories, the present, the past, the future, and even a scene that is lifted out of Hitchcock's Vertigo. All serve to envelop the viewer into its disturbing cacophony of madness and futility.
Visually, Gilliam is a master of desolate umbrage and shadow rivalling Tim Burton in his strikingly despondent scenery and imagery. With cold, wide, and immersing cinematography, Gilliam plunges into the colorless surroundings and darkness of his characters. The scenes are often bathed in a strangely antiseptic, dead white and help serve as a contrast to the often veering-on-madness characters.
Performance-wise, Brad Pitt steals most scenes, filling them with a patented loony, off-the-wall performance that deservedly garnered him an Oscar nomination. As mentioned, Bruce Willis gives the best performance of his career, not reverting to his heroic cliches and cardboard hero and instead portraying Cole as a simple, poignant, tragic everyman. Equally good is Madeline Stowe as Willis' psychologist. She holds her own, injecting her character with both wild energy and strength as she collapses under the weight of what she comes to believe is a false 'religion.'
Gilliam's expert, overwhelming, and complex handling of what could have been a routine action/sci-fi film makes 12 Monkeys a compelling vision of a nightmarish, futuristic landscape. Its rich, well-thought out, intricate storyline along with bravura performances from the entire cast and its brooding, bleak cinematography make it a masterpiece of madness. Ranking in my top 10 of all time, 12 Monkeys is a darkly lavish spectacle of a film brimming with brilliance.
10 out of 10
"Twelve monkeys"'s got all the elements to become Terry Gilliam's masterpiece. An outstanding screenplay, a sustained rhythm, clever sometimes ironic dialogs. Moreover, he had a good nose about the cast. "Twelve monkeys" is also the first movie where Bruce Willis stands back from the kind of character he used to play in his previous movies. Here, a jaded and hopeless character which you could nickname a prisoner took over from a fearless and invincible hero (as it was the case in "Die hard"). No matter how he tries, he's a prisoner of the time. The movie contains a very thrilling end too. It's got a real dramatic power. But this terrific movie is also a reflection about man, the dangers he dreads (notably, the ones that could cause the end of the world and here, these are virus that can create illnesses). No matter how long it will take, "twelve monkeys" will be estimated at its true value: one of the masterpieces made in the nineties.
Just kidding, I rented 12 Monkeys the other day because I am a huge
Bruce Willis fan and I heard some things about the film. Some good and
some bad, but it was one of those films you had to pay attention to
every second, so I was a bit worried. Just because I felt like for a
minute if this was going to be one of those films that I had to watch
several times to get. But I watched it last night and I was really
impressed, this movie had everything in it: action, drama, sci-fi,
history, dark humor, and even a little romance. The actors all did a
terrific job, I give a lot of credit to Bruce, during his scene in the
car with his psychiatrist, he really got to me. But Brad Pitt, I'm just
amazed with how much of a great job he did. He didn't over do his
character, who was crazy, and just made it work and was extremely
believable. The story was just scary, but very good and a wake up call.
James Cole is a man in the future where a virus broke out in the past and killed 5 billion people and only 1% of the population survived including him. Animals are now ruling the ground above while the humans are down below, but scientists send James to the past of 1990(really meaning to send him to '96), to find out about information of the virus. James gets put into a mental institution meeting his new psychiatrist, Dr. Kathryn Raily and another mental patient, Jeffrey Goines. He tells them the future, of course no one believes him, he goes back to the future. But the scientists send him back to the correct year to where the doctor is kidnapped by James, but he tells her more, and believes him. Now they are set on trying to prevent the virus from ever happening.
12 Monkeys was an incredible film. Like I said the story was so scary just because it's not at all hard to believe that we are not far from that happening. But the whole movie was just great, the cast, the sets, just the whole picture was a great one. It had a Terminator type of feel to it where we might loose something precious one day, ourselves if we don't listen to others. What is right and what is wrong? Who knows? But I would highly recommend 12 Monkeys, it's a great movie that if you give it the proper chance, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
I had the privilege of seeing this film at a preview screening years ago,
and outside the theater I was confronted by a camera crew from a local TV
station looking for comments on the film. At the time, the only words that
escaped my mouth were "Awesome. Just awesome." I like to think I can
articulate myself a little better than that, but at the time I was somewhat
incapable of doing so.
The story is intriguing and thought provoking, and the acting is first rate from all the principals. This film was the first one that Terry Gilliam directed that he didn't have a hand in the writing credit for. Back with Universal after his long, arduous battle with them over "Brazil", Terry had achieved what he wanted most; the "final cut". Terry is a master craftsman, and each shot is like a beautifully conceived painting that has been constructed carefully with determination and conviction. It is only justice that such an individual should be unfettered in his attempts to convey a concept. Unfortunately, limitations still exist in such arrangements.
The Universal Collector's Edition DVD of this film is simply amazing, although most of the bonus features aren't listed on the box. It contains among other things, a director/producer audio commentary and an informative and extremely interesting 90 minute documentary on the making of the film called "The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys". It tells of some of the creative pitfalls in filmmaking, including a test of mettle when preview screenings tested poorly, striking the team with feelings of self-doubt and despair. Fortunately, for all of us, they decided to change very little about the film and released it to an enormous success.
Terry Gilliam's stunning feature-length adaptation of Chris Marker's short film LA JETEE is full of mind-bending surprises, yet still touches your heart thanks to the superb cast. Gilliam's flair for the phantasmagorical works with the script by David and Janet Peoples to play with your head as much as it does with poor James Cole (Willis at his most Steve McQueen-like -- better than McQueen, even!), a time-traveling convict from the future who literally doesn't know whether he's coming or going as a team of scientists keeps sending him back to the wrong eras while trying to prevent a 1995 plague that's deadly to humans but harmless to animals. Willis, the justifiably Oscar-nominated Brad Pitt, and Madeline Stowe as a well-meaning psychiatrist give some of the best performances of their careers. Even Paul Buckmaster's tango-style score is haunting. This one's a don't-miss!
In the future humans exist underground, the surface having become
uninhabitable due to the release of a virus years before in 1996. The
ruling classes are scientists and large sections of the population are
held as prisoners in tiny cells; prisoners who "volunteer" to help work
out what happened back in 1996 that killed off 99% of the population.
Requiring information about the visit, James Cole is sent back to 1996
to gather what information he can. However, sent to 1990 by accident,
Cole finds himself in a mental hospital where he meets From the very
start this film marks itself out as being very much a Terry Gilliam
product and those who hate his work will probably dislike this film for
the same reason. However, pleasing people like that is not my concern
and 12 Monkeys is actually one of Gilliam's most accessible films as it
sets his imaginative style within a narrative that is satisfyingly
complex and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The story is not
perfect though, the connection to the start is nice but the ultimate
twist behind the virus just seems to have been thrown in to keep the
film tidy; a minor complaint though because even then the main thrust
of the story (Cole) keeps it together. The twisting plot plays with
both Cole's and our sense of reality and it is genuinely gripping from
start to finish Gilliam's direction is superb, whether it be the
realistic world of the 1990's filmed with clever angles and shots or
the wonderfully twisted world of the future, it is all excellent and
was such a pleasant find in my local cinema at the time.
The film benefits from great turns from the cast. Willis was having a bit of a career resurrection in the mid-90's when several films showed us that he could actually act for me, 12 Monkeys was one of them. Willis is superb as he spins from madness to sanity and back again; he underplays all the way and is so much better than the wise-cracking everyman that he is better known for. Pitt is just as good but in a different way. Getting an Oscar nomination that he deserved, Pitt risks overdoing it but pushes his crazy performance as far as he can without being indulgent I'm not saying he is perfect but I would could this as one of his best performances to date. Stowe is very much in the shadow of these two but she holds her own well. Morse, Seda, Meloni and Plummer are all good in minor roles but really the film belongs to the lead three Willis in particular and Pitt in a great supporting role.
Overall this is a great sci-fi; the story is great and is only helped by Gilliam's imaginative direction and awareness of the fantastic. Meanwhile the cast are very strong, with the famous leads giving some of their best performances to date. Downbeat, imaginative, engaging and one of the more accessible of Gilliam's films, it stands out as one of the best American sci-fi's of the past few decades.
I grew up on Python and have followed Terry Gilliam's subsequent directorial career for more years than I care to remember. Half his output leaves me cold, the other half dazzle me beyond belief. 'Brazil' is his movie that I would rate the highest, but I've come to think that I have unfairly underrated 'Twelve Monkeys'. I have always enjoyed it, but I've only come to realize just how good a movie it really is. Sometimes I think it is even better than 'Brazil'. It's a close pick. Unlike 'Brazil' Gilliam didn't come up with the script. He basically was initially involved as a director for hire. Thankfully the script itself (by David and Janet Peoples) is first rate. On top of that Gilliam manages to stamp his own style and approach on to the material without sliding into complete self-indulgence as he sometimes does. The budget of this movie wasn't anywhere near as large as you would imagine from the impressive results on screen. It looks superb. Gilliam coaxes first rate performances out of Bruce Willis (quite a surprise) and Brad Pitt (not such a surprise, see also 'Johnny Suede' and 'Kalifornia'). Madeline Stowe is also very good, as is Christopher Plummer, and in a small but important role, David Morse. It's difficult to fault this movie. It is a joy to watch, and improves with each viewing. I also highly recommend Chris Marker's 'La Jetee', the short experimental film which inspired 'Twelve Monkeys'. It is also brilliant.
There is a story (possibly apocryphal) about an exchange between Bruce
Willis and Terry Gilliam at the start of Twelve Monkeys. Gilliam
(allegedly) produced a long list (think about the aircraft one from the
Fifth Element) and handed it to Butch Bruce. It was entitled "Things
Bruce Willis Does When He Acts". It ended with a simple message saying:
"please don't do any of the above in my movie".
There is a fact about this movie (definitely true). Gilliam didn't have a hand in the writing.
I would contend that these two factors played a huge role in creating the extraordinary (if not commercial) success that is The Twelve Monkeys.
Visually, the Twelve Monkeys is all that we have rightly come to expect from a Gilliam film. It is also full of Gilliamesque surrealism and general (but magnificent) strangeness. Gilliam delights in wrong-footing his audience. Although the ending of the Twelve Monkeys will surprise no one who has sat through the first real, Gilliam borrows heavily from Kafka in the clockwork, bureaucratic relentless movement of the characters towards their fate. It is this journey, and the character developments they undergo, which unsettles.
I love Gilliam films (Brazil, in particular). But they do all tend to suffer from the same weakness. He seems to have so many ideas, and so much enthusiasm, that his films almost invariably end up as a tangled mess (Brazil, in particular). I still maintain that Brazil is Gilliam's tour de force, but there's no denying that The Twelve Monkey's is a breath of fresh air in the tight-plotting department. Style, substance and form seem to merge in a way not usually seen from the ex-Python.
Whatever the truth of the rumour above, Gilliam also manages to get a first rate (and very atypical) performance out of the bald one. Bruce is excellent in this film, as are all the cast, particularly a suitably bonkers - and very scary - Brad Pitt.
It's been over a decade since this film was released. When I watched it again, I realised that it hadn't really aged. I had changed, of course. And this made me look at the film with fresh eyes. This seems to me to be a fitting tribute to a film that, partly at least, is about reflections in mirrors, altered perspectives and the absurd one-way journey through time that we all make. A first rate film. 8/10.
Normally I try to avoid Sci-Fi movies as much as I can, because this
just isn't a genre that really appeals to me. Light sabers, UFO's,
aliens, time traveling... most of the time it's nothing for me.
However, there is one movie in the genre that I'll always give a place
in my list of top movies and that's this "Twelve Monkeys" I remember to
be completely blown away by it the first time, but even now, after
having it seen several times already, I'm still one of its biggest
fans. Every time I see it, this movie seems to get better and better.
Somewhere in the distant future all people live underground because an unknown and lethal virus wiped out five billion people in 1996, leaving only 1 percent of the population alive. James Cole is one of them. He's a prisoner who lives in a small cage and who is chosen as a 'volunteer' to be sent back to in time to gather information about the origin of the epidemic. They believe it was spread by a mysterious group called 'The Twelve Monkeys' and need the virus before it mutated, so that scientists can study it. But their time traveling machine doesn't work perfectly yet and he is accidentally sent to 1990, where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist, and Jeffrey Goines, the insane son of a famous scientist and virus expert...
What I like so much about this movie is the fact that it is never clear whether all what you are seeing is real or not. Is this just an illusion, created in the mind of a mentally ill man or is it real? Does he really come from the future and can he really travel through time? Was the population really wiped out by a virus, released by the army of The Twelve Monkeys? Those are all questions that will leave you wondering from the beginning until the end. If the makers of this movie had chosen to make it all more obvious, I'm sure that I would never have liked it as much as I did now. It's just that mysteriousness that keeps me interested time after time. But that's not the only good thing about this movie of course. The acting is amazing too. Normally I'm not too much a fan of Bruce Willis, but what he did in this movie was just astonishing. Together with Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt he should have won several awards for it, because together with the amazing story, they made this movie work so incredibly well.
Even after several viewings, I'm still a huge fan of this movie. Except for this movie, I have only seen one other Terry Gilliam movie and that's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", which wasn't bad, but didn't really convince me either. However, it's this movie that really makes me look forward to his other work. I give it a 9/10, maybe even a 9.5/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Stories about the possibility of a post-apocalyptic future have been
around for ages, since the very creation of science-fiction as a genre
per se. The fact that today's society is responsible for what may
become of the future in the near tomorrow, and that our own abuses and
refusals to see what is right before out eyes are at the very center of
all of these stories, whether they are good or bad.
Terry Gilliam of course is a natural for this kind of film. He gives the movie a decadent feel throughout, showing a society run ragged by its own excesses and bringing forth the a sense of imminent tragedy despite having moments of comedy. His world, the world in which TWELVE MONKEYS transpires, is a place where the mad run wild, where cities are collapsing in filth and neglect, where everything reeks of foreboding despite the luminosity of the opening sequence, where madness looms at every corner. This is a very dark movie, but his very best, most linear (despite the plot twists which hold up under examination), and one which gets better with repeated viewings.
A tragic event in which a deadly virus was unleashed onto humanity in 1996 and thus led to the extermination of Life On The Planet As We Have Known It leads to scientists of the future to try and make amends to change humanity's fate on the Earth by employing renegade citizens -- the scum of the Earth -- as guinea pigs to go back in time, among them one James Cole (underplayed to great effect by Bruce Willis). Cole could be any person. We don't know anything about him, but in a way, that doesn't matter since he is little more than one of many expendable volunteers and hints of his character sneak in later as he gets closer to fulfilling his mission. What we do know is that he is a man who dreams, and his dreams may have been reality: he may have already been at the scene of the Event of 1996.
It's this constant sense of deja vu that keeps popping up throughout the movie. When taken to a mental ward by mistake in 1990 he meets Jeffrey Goines (spastically played by Brad Pitt, Oscar-nominated here) who frantically spews forth talk about doom and destruction, and later Cole believes he has seen Goines in his recurring dream as a man pushing a boy aside while escaping... what? He doesn't know. Later he meets a psychologist, Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), and one of her first reactions to him is that he's insane, and that she's seen him before. This becomes a running notion throughout her participation in this story from passive/resistant to active and even slightly crazy believer that Something Terrible is coming This Way, especially when she meets him six years later: she has seen Cole before. At the same time, Cole continues talking about a dream he keeps having in which she also plays a part as a blonde woman running down the aisle, screaming for help, after shots have rung out and a particular red-headed man in a ponytail (Jeffrey Goines?) has apparently escaped, not before pushing the little boy who is an innocent bystander. The questions arise: have these events happened? Are they going to happen? Who is really a part of this, or better yet -- is everyone, down to the smallest player, a part of a Greater Plot? Or is this all some trick in the fabric of time in which Time in itself is one huge conveyor belt showing repetitions of fragments of events that slide by over and over again?
These questions are formulated in a masterful sequence which includes key scenes of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece VERTIGO in which Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton mourns her own brief existence ("You took no notice," she says, as Cole and Railly watch from their seats in the movie theatre they are hiding in). Snippets of dialog from VERTIGO form a foil to the dialog between Railly and Cole and later, when Cole awakens from having apparently dozed off in the theatre and goes looking for Railly, he comes face-to-face with her in disguise (looking almost exactly like Eva Maria Saint from NORTH BY NORTHWEST) as the swelling Bernard Herrmann score plays the emergence of Judy Barton, dressed as Madeleine Elster. It's a fascinating sequence, more so because of the most improbable occurrence of the names of the actors in both films: Madeleine Stowe plays Kathryn Railly who dons a blond wig and grey trench-coat and calls herself "Judy Simmons" while helping an "insane" man named James Cole; James Stewart plays a detective who tries to help "insane" Madeleine Elster who will later re-appear not once, but twice, first as brunette Judy Barton, and later, as Madeleine. Action and re-enaction, play and re-play.
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