The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009) Poster

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7/10
The whole is not the sum of the parts - at least not on a single viewing
motta80-214 October 2009
Like so many of Terry Gilliam's films The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is one that is going to need multiple viewings to truly form an opinion on. Like Brazil, Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, Fisher King, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas and Tideland (even Time Bandits really) there is so much going on here that expectations or reputations get in the way and make it hard to digest and appreciate on a single viewing. No bad thing necessarily.

Of course Parnassus has the particularly insurmountable problem of being the late Heath Ledger's final performance and following on from his superb, Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight. It is impossible to see the film through eyes that don't see it as the film he died making. Some parts of the film may perhaps work even better than they may of done had he lived – some of the best films are triumphs over adversity and adverse conditions don't come much greater than your star dying mid-shoot. But whatever works and doesn't in the film it is hard – impossible on a first viewing – to divorce yourself from the knowledge you bring into the theatre.

On first feeling Parnassus seems patchy, and curiously it feels like a film that may not have worked as well as it does had nothing happened to Ledger. Don't get me wrong I'd rather have a Gilliam failure and Ledger still alive to put it behind him and move on than a wonderful film that is largely the result of his tragic death. But we don't have that so I'm just looking at what's there.

The fact is the film is at it's best when galloping around the fantastical worlds of the Imaginarium, with Ledger's character Tony now played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Depp and Farrell are particularly good and imbue the film with an energy lacking in much of it.

The casting generally is good. Christopher Plummer is steadfast excellence as always. Lily Cole is a surprisingly strong choice. I've never understood the viewpoint of Cole as "sooooooo beautiful" that the gossip sheets and magazines espouse but she has a quirky intrigue that works wonders in a Gilliam world and proves herself as an actress amongst a proved group of impressive performers. Hers is probably the best debut performance I can recall of a model or singer turning to acting. She puts a lot of professional actresses (no Keiras named!) to shame.

Andrew Garfield is that intriguing mix of annoying and brilliant. Like DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? I started out thinking he was terrible and then grew to realise it was just that I hated him, his character. He annoyed the hell out of me. In another words he had inhabited the character so fully, so convincingly that my negative feelings toward him where directed at the fictional character. A superb performance.

Tom Waits steals moments constantly. Waits hasn't been given such a juicy role that fit him better since Renfield in Coppola's Dracula and he revels as Dr Nick (the devil) here.

Oddly the performance that, again I specify on first viewing, leaves you a bit underwhelmed is Ledgers. It is not a bad performance but the expectations as you go in, knowing it was his last performance, means you expect something special. Brokeback Mountain/Dark Knight special. But of course not every role is as powerful as his in Brokeback or as scene-stealing as the Joker. I mean he didn't know it was his last performance for crying out loud. Therefore it cannot possibly live up to expectations and is destined to underwhelm until multiple viewings and some distance allow it to be judged fairly. That there was such a fully formed character there that three other actors could step in to play alternate universe versions of it entirely convincingly is arguably a testament to how strong a performance Ledger did give. It is not a likable character or a flashy character (it doesn't even really seem the main character until the alternate worlds with the alternate Tonys come in) and so Ledger's understated subtleties are easy to miss.

When you watch Fisher King the first time you remember Robin Williams, not Jeff Bridges. In Twelve Monkeys it's Brad Pitt that comes away with you not Bruce Willis. And yet on further viewings Bridges' performance seems superb, Willis' perhaps the best of his career. I suspect on repeated viewings I'm going to see the strength of Ledger's performance better. I hope so.

And of course this is a problem much of the film has. Gilliam doesn't make simple, overly explained films for the masses – thank Gilliam – you have to work with them. The problem here is that with your mind distracted with thoughts of Ledger and expectations built on that promise of Gilliam at his creative best, three step-in performances and Ledger's final performance it's hard to get your mind around the story and enjoy it as a piece of work.

Sometimes Gilliam films work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they get better and better on repeat viewings (Brazil); sometimes they work instantly (Twelve Monkeys); sometimes they seem to work but the more you see them or think about them they crumble and ultimately don't (Brothers Grimm). Sometimes they just seem to be a mix of great ideas, wonderful performances and ingenious set pieces but hampered by an overabundance of theatricality and almost too much going on for its own good (Baron Munchausen). On a first viewing Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus feels like this latter. Bits work, bits don't. It's enjoyable in places but perplexing ultimately.

I will definitely revisit it though to see if changes on repeat viewings. I feel sure it will, but whether that's a good or bad thing, well, I'll have to wait and see.
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7/10
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
kie900010 November 2009
The main talking point surrounding The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the fact that it is the last appearance of the late Heath Ledger, however, there is a lot more to talk about with this film. Ledger's performance is good, as one would expect, but he has done better and more iconic roles. The problem faced by his death occurring before filming completed is overcome easily and one would not necessarily know that Ledger had died just from the evidence of the film. There is a fitting tribute to him in the film, as Johnny Depp's version of Heath Ledger's character comments on how celebrities who died young will live on forever.

However, this film deserves to be discussed as a piece of work on its own. Like many of Terry Gilliam's films it is both complex and imaginative. The titular Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) operates a mostly unsuccessful travelling show where he hopes to send members of the public through a magic mirror into the Imaginarium where they will ultimately face a choice between giving their soul to Parnassus or the Devil (Tom Waits). Those two are having a contest for the soul of Valentina (Lily Cole), the Doctor's daughter. Helping the Doctor's show are the lovelorn Anton, the dwarf Percy and Tony a mysterious stranger who can draw punters.

Initially all these plot points work well. Doctor Parnassus is a desperate man who has almost given up hope, whilst the Devil is entertaining to watch, yet evidently devious. The heart of the film lies with Valentina who wants a normal life but is it unaware that it is far more complicated than just the raising of money. Unfortunately, the film runs into difficulty in the last third as the plot lines all come together and even more are added, creating a overly complex ending where nothing gets resolved properly.

The acting is good, with Lily Cole surprisingly impressive and old hands Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits leading by example. Terry Gilliam direction combines the fantastical and the ordinary in a way that only he can. It is the first time he has participated in the writing process for two decades and this film has an autobiographical feel as Doctor Parnassus tries to entice with stories and the imagination only to be met by cynical crowds. This effort to wow the public may not move them away from CGI and is short of his best, but it is still entertaining and favourable over films which lack charm, imagination and storytelling.
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8/10
A Unique and Extraordinary Adventure
DjMethod10 January 2010
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a very strange film but it pulls together wonderfully. It was dark but funny at the same time. I really loved the imaginarium sequences. Gilliam uses dream-like imagery and odd behavior to construct a fantastic escape into imagination. Although the CGI was admittedly simplistic, it was fitting for the fantasy realm. Great performances, especially by Heath Ledger and Colin Farrell.

I don't think this movie is for everyone since it has received mixed reactions. I also would advise against having certain expectations going into it, because there's no way to anticipate what you will get out of the film. But for me, it was certainly a real treat and very enjoyable throughout.

8/10
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9/10
Good film but not for everyone
Laura Seabrook6 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film on the way home after a trip to Sydney. I was run-down, slightly feverish and head-achy, but none of that interfered with my enjoyment of the film.

I'd actually forgotten that the film'd been released but when I saw the choices available it was the logical choice. I missed 1 minute of the opening credits but for once that wasn't a crucial thing. This being a Terry Gilliam film, you know it's going to be a) fantastic in a classic sense, b) complicated with many red herrings and original characters, and c) something you can watch more than once.

I was not disappointed. It took a while before I followed what was happening and that's part of the charm of this film. The story (really a parable or allegory) is built up in layers and seemed to me perfectly cast (even allowing for Ledger's "ring-ins" after his untimely death). I particularly like the play between Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and Mr Nick (Tom Waits). I found it interesting to see the visual influences in this film as well. The fantasy segments all have the mark of the director's animation days with Monty Python. There's also a Harry Potter influence in that Parnassus's wagon/theater looks like something from one of those films, and Parnassus himself reminded me strongly of a drunk Dumbledore.

But this is NOT a film for everyone. The ending is NOT a Hollywood style "happy ending" by any means, but one that reflects on the nature of life. Anyone expecting this film to be a bit of "holiday entertainment" will be sorely disappointed, as the plot is not as predictable and the clichés used in the film aren't the sort you usually see.

A top film that makes one think.
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8/10
A world so strange as strange can be...
SophomoreSlump5 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus tells the story of the immortal Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his magical Imaginarium, a travelling show in which a volunteer from the audience gets to experience their greatest need in vivid forms and then has to choose between two paths. Choose correctly and you will be enlightened, choose wrongly and things won't be so good for you. Dr Parnassus however has a very dark secret; he once made a bet with Mr Nick the Devil (Tom Waits), in which he won immortality. Centuries later, he decided to trade his immortality with youth when he met his one true love, on the condition that his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) belongs to Mr Nick when she reaches 16. The daughter is now reaching that consenting age, and Mr Nick comes to collect but Dr Parnassus is not about to let go. However, being the devil that he is, Mr Nick renewed the wager: Whoever entices the first 5 souls wins Valentina.

Enter Tony (the late Heath Ledger), a mysterious man found hanging under a bridge by the Imaginarium crews and was revived by Anton (Andrew Garfield) to join the show and eventually make it successful. However, there's something about Tony that makes Parnassus' loyal friend Percy (Verne Troyer) uneasy. Tony's shady backgrounds and friendship with Valetina also make the jealous Percy more anxious. Dr Parnassus on the other hand is happy with Tony and he promises his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever that helps him win the bet. A race against time and choices of morality ensues in the wonderland that is the Imaginarium.

Terry Gilliam directed this painting of a movie wonderfully with timing and pace coherently controlled. He gives us not just a great story but a whole world so outstandingly created with visual effect and cinematography that might leave you wondering where you are at the end of the movie and where you were during it. The Imaginarium, with its doorway made of simple foil sheets, is filled with random worlds produced by people's mind which is so vivid and mysterious and weird. This whole film is weird. But in a good way.

What most might notice is the fact that the script and dialogues flow and form so smoothly and realistically that it is like watching real people in real situation. Heath Ledger did improvise some of his line and that fact alone proves how great of an actor he is. Although you might find his acting a bit similar to last year's most famous villain, The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) which, of course, he himself played. His acting is believable, since he is an Australian playing British. Then there are Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, each playing the different version of Tony when he enters the Imaginarium. The three actors played that one role so well that they disappeared into Heath Ledger's character so effectively that you are seeing a man whose face had changed and not a change in the person himself.

But of course, this is not a story about Tony but Dr Parnassus (as in the title). Christopher Plummer did well playing a failing, sometimes drunken, side-show immortal and he provided enough mystical quality for the character. There are also several flashback scenes of a younger Parnassus also played by him. Tom Waits, played the Devil brilliantly with his growly voice and dark demeanour. Lily Cole proved that she can show real raw emotion in some scenes. Verne Troyer plays a lovable Percy, equipped with fast witty comments and wise words. And Andrew Garfield plays the distress young man, Anton.

The score is great. Nothing ground-breaking but the music disappears and becomes a part of the scene. A great touch is when whenever Mr Nick appears, the score changes to something jazzy or bluesy.

The storyline itself is something to be loved and the twist and turns of the plot is something to be admired. It's one thing people might not expect from a CGI-laden movie. But the story will grip you and make you captivated that you will sit through the 120 minutes just to see how it ends. The writers Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown deserve an applause for handling such complicated story so well.

It is basically a story about a father protecting his daughter. But what makes it unique is the fact that is it layered with metaphors and references about religion, the battle between good and evil, choices people made, impression people put up and morality behind each of our action.

Not many people will like this movie simply because of its strange nature. The storyline itself is quiet confusing and its combination with the weird graphic of the Imaginarium world does not help at all. Some parts need a second viewing which I'm sure will be a rewarding watch. But if you understand it, I expect you will love The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
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10/10
A masterpiece - go see it
GreenTeaOm28 December 2009
This is Terry Gilliam's dark masterpiece. It's a brilliant film--there are fabulous, fantastic, surrealistic visual effects; gorgeous cinematography; and stunning performances by an amazing cast of consisting of both famous stars and lesser known (but excellent) actors. It's in the vein of the great European surrealistic movies like Fellini's "8 1/2" or "Satyricon". But--if you're not open to a mind bending, almost psychedelic fantasy and a plot with strange twists and turns that can be challenging to follow, this won't be for you. The cast is terrific--I mean, Tom Waits plays "Old Scratch"--how can you lose? Christopher Plummer is excellent in the title role; Heath Ledger's last performance is stellar. Lily Cole, Johnny Depp, Andrew Garfield, Jude Law, Verne Troyer, and Colin Farrell are also very good. The costumes and sets are gorgeous, though often in a dark and grungy way. By the way--it also ends up being a story about ethical choices in life and how some people are very misleading. Probably not material for a box office hit, sadly, as this film is probably too unusual for most Americans.
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It struggles to keep things in order, and often becomes weighed down by tired filler, but Gilliam returns to form nonetheless
Romarth15 December 2009
Suffering the double whammy of being directed by Terry Gilliam (forever the attracter of on-set misfortune – Don Quixote, anyone?) and the untimely death of its star, Heath Ledger, halfway through shooting, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has had a troubled upbringing. But with the actor's tragic passing, its unremarkable place on 2009's cinema calendar was upped by being Ledger's second posthumous and final movie, unfairly burdening the film with the anticipation of it being something great.

It's not great. But it is a good movie, and probably Gilliam's best in over a decade. Also, bittersweet though it may be, Ledger's inability to complete his work is remedied in an incredibly inventive manner that arguably improves what would have been; the multiple facets of Ledger's mysterious Tony in the Imaginarium is a great inflection, and Gilliam deserves credit for this creative retooling, and for the fact that the haste in which it was applied is not at all noticeable. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell (who all donated their wages to his daughter, Matilda) honorably step in to play the alternates, paying poignant tribute to their friend. All are good (though Farrell's Irish accent is far too thick to flatten), Depp probably being the best, but its all mimicry; Ledger is the one who does all the work. His Tony, performed with a flawless English accent, is a great part for him, possessing all the characteristics of vintage Ledger – charismatic, droll, physically erratic, etc. It's not on par with his work in Brokeback Mountain or The Dark Knight, but seeing how much fun he must have been having, seeing that wily smile, makes it a none the more fitting goodbye to the man.

The multi-personas also, despite sounding like classically contrived Gilliam, actually turn out to be the most credible part of the movie; they represent the most fascinating of the film's many mediations on reality (Gilliam is always at best when toying with reality, and this is no exception) - different parallels of the human psyche (or at least Tony's) are all challenged, and make for genuinely thought-provoking stuff. The rest of the film, however, is a bit of a patchwork; provocative but hopelessly overwrought. As always with the Brazil director, you can't fault his ambition, but he's always been patently unable to neatly combine all of his ideas into a satisfying whole.

His biggest mistake is going contemporary. Gilliam's sense of humor, being that of a Python affiliate's, has always been well-authenticated by a theatrical and undeniably British zaniness. But here, we get modern social satire in the form of Tony's revamped version of the group's travelling act, and we get conversational verbosity (particularly in the poor improvisation of a pointless Verne Troyer), and it simply doesn't suit. Better are the moments where a group of "violence-loving" coppers dance about in skirts or in the inebriated ramblings of Doctor Parnassus.

Why Gilliam didn't stick to his personal brand of appealing outlandishness is a shame, and a mystery, considering his fine cast of comically-endowed Brits, with glorious thespian Christopher Plummer at its head as the titular Doc. Of all the actors on hand here, Plummer is the one who best excels with the material. Playing a man who has lived over one-thousand years, he manages to convincingly carry himself with the weight of that time, his sallow-skinned and ravaged face, heavy, sad eyes, and world-weary frown scarily naturalistic. He's a heart-breaking character, and Plummer makes him an uncompromising presence.

Also impressive are newcomers Andrew Garfield and Lily Cole, and Tom Waits as Mr Nick, the Devil himself. The notorious singer has never really had any good roles to work with in his career, and, in all fairness, his talents as an actor dictates just as much, but he's simply perfect here, his Machiavelli stealing all the scenes he wonderfully chews with his smarminess. It's not exactly a creation of noteworthy prowess (and neither is the character – the cavalier, smooth-talking, gentleman-like villain, who relishes fomenting, is very overdone), but he's just such a hoot and effortlessly magnetic. He's pretty much the best thing here, and worth the admission price.

Along with the cast, the visuals, a branch you can expect brilliance in with Gilliam, are a real saving grace. The special effects in the Imaginarium aren't extraordinary, but that's the point; it's an accentuated, animated reality – one's greatest dreams (and nightmares) aren't supposed to be realistic. And few images this year are more stirring than of a harrowed Parnassus wandering through a vast snow-plain, giving up his struggle at a crossroad sign that reads "High Road" or "Low Road".

It's a very entertaining movie, and thematically sound (it manages to make existentialism and solipsism accessible), and endearingly whimsical in tone and style. Unfortunately, it frequently degenerates into a muddle, the many ideas it juggles far too incoherently transcended. Thankfully, however, after the monotonous middle act, the movie picks up steam and the great Imaginarium sequences arrive to compel. And, in the end, it's a sheer miracle that the movie got made; the fact that Gilliam didn't give up, that he persevered and single-handedly defeated one of the worst production catastrophes, and that he gave Ledger his swansong, is something truly amazing. And it is for that reason that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be remembered.
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10/10
The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam
bigmovieman19 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival!

Apparently, Gilliam was not "on" anything while conceiving this masterful work of abstract reality. And i, for one, believe this statement is genuine. This is because through the visual chaos presented on the screen lies a single idea that weaves the entire picture together. Yes, there are flaws in the story but life has flaws and that is why artists like Mr. Gilliam create the means to escape from that daily monotony.

The cast had perhaps more heavyweight star-power than any contemporary Hollywood blockbuster could ever dream of (Ledger, Plummer, Depp, Law, and Ferrel. Each of them bringing their talents to the table even as Tom Waits steals the show popping up unexpectedly every now and then in the most unusual fashion. Heath is a true chameleon; this time, sporting an English accent. But it is Christopher Plummer who is the true lead as it is he who we follow on the mission to save his daughter from the grasp of Waits' devil that underlines the entire film.

While watching, one ultimately forgets that it is the last time that Heath will ever grace the big screen and yet it seems as though he goes out with the same grace many thought had already passed with The Dark Knight. It is also particularly strange how the last shot of the Joker in The Dark Knight is hanging upside-down (sorry for spoiler) and the first shot of Tony in this film is hanging under a bridge (not really a spoiler). The latter is foretold by Parnassus via a tarot card called "The Hanged Man" which foretells happiness at the price of sacrifice...
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7/10
It makes no sense, but I enjoyed it so
JimD7314 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Trying to come up with some kind of rating for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is quite a challenge indeed. On one hand, the plot goes absolutely nowhere, the ending is nearly incoherent and the point seems lost in an overly symbolical climax. On the other hand, the movie is absolutely beautiful, some characters are beyond excellent and the ideas behind it are tremendously original. And I'm an absolute sucker for originality.

Imaginarium makes no bones about being completely out-of-this-world from the outset, following a troupe of actors and mystics. The leader, Dr. Parnassus, is mostly silent on stage, rumoured to be an immortal who has lived 1000 years. Also following are Parnassus' 15-year-old daughter Valentina, youthful romantic Anton (who is, of course, head-over-heels for Valentina) and wisecracking yet wise midget Percy. They soon run across a mysterious amnesiac stranger, who has new ideas for the show.

Parnassus accepts, because he's made a deal with the devil (given the name Mr. Nick) and needs to collect five souls before the devil does, which he accomplishes by having people enter his Imaginarium, a world inside his/their mind (its difficult to tell just whose mind it is). And so the race is on, and Valentina's life is at stake.

The exact "rules" of this soul-collecting business is never explicitly stated. Some parts near the end involving this simply make little to no sense. In fact, the entire ending is full of mumbo jumbo that probably demands a second viewing. Even with this oddity, the ending is nonetheless exciting.

The middle, however, does drag somewhat. Despite what one might think, the Imaginarium scenes appear in the beginning, then cut out for nearly an hour. The movie doesn't have much steam in the real world, although Ledger's enthusiac salesman performance does give these bits some life to them, as well as any interactions with Percy.

It does, of course, have a very standard love triangle, with Anton and the stranger vying over Valentina's affections. Thankfully, neither suitor is displayed as particularly perfect, but it does feel somewhat by-the-book otherwise. Anton is the sweet, age-appropriate suitor, with a gleam in his eye and jealously in his heart. The stranger (eventually revealed to be named Tony, but I much prefer the early moniker George) is much cooler and more assertive, but there's mysteries in his past. How it all ends up is slightly surprising, but its mostly the same as always for the romantic side of things.

As for the actual imaginarium scenes, if Avatar is a testament to the raw power of CGI, this film is a testament to their artistic value. Likely entirely green-screened, these sequences are quite dazzling, with rivers turning into snakes and sinister Russian mothers. Its like Alice in Wonderland went slightly more over-the-edge, and some while some bits are truly bizarre, its all quite fascinating, especially when it is first re-introduced after the middle.

One of the big buzzes of Parnassus is Ledger's performance, being his last before his untimely death. While he has extraordinary bits as the salesman of the show, the meatier bits in the imaginarium, unfortunately, were not filmed before he passed. In an act of true genius, Gilliam used three other actors to fill in (Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrel), with the explanation being that his appearance changes. Which would have made sense had the other characters had their appearance change as well, although one other exception does occur, giving it somewhat more validity. All three actors pull their weight wonderfully to help the film. Jude Law, in my opinion, was the best of the three, although Farrel was also great with likely the most screen time and dramatic impact. Depp was certainly entertaining, but seemed too much like Johnny Depp, clashing a bit with Ledger's characteristics on the outside. Unfortunately, Ledger's character is last seen as one of these forms, leaving the characters sendoff disconnected.

The supporting cast has some big standouts. Plummer is appropriately wise, but does little more than expected. Lily Cole is a beautiful subject for the role, and perfectly exudes youthful naivete, although the character's age sometimes makes her actions squeamish. Verne Troyer (yeah, that Verne Troyer) is exceptional as the comic relief Percy. The true standout is Tom Waits as Mr. Nick, the trickster devil. A stlish mix of clever and evil, Mr. Nick is one of the best villains of the year, and an excellently entertaining performance.

Imaginarium simply must be seen twice to get a proper opinion of the movie. If originality and style is more important than pure dramatic substance for you, then I would recommend this movie, as few like it exist. If you want more substance, look elsewhere.
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10/10
Requires an IQ over 80 and at least a 15 second attention span
harleytoad28 April 2010
Many reviewers wrote they could not sit through the film. Sadly, in today's "I must constantly be entertained with my 1.5 second attention span", moviegoers tend to actually stomach "Gone In Sixty Seconds" yet cannot follow an intelligent, thoughtful film, replete with the fantastic imagination of Terry Gilliam. I had little trouble not only following this film, but following the changes of characters caused by Heath Ledger's death. Actually, the best of the characters was Johnny Depp, as usual. Everyone else who played the part, including Ledger, seemed to be walking through the lines. Overall, I loved the film. It definitely should have won best set decoration, and Christopher Plummer should have been a candidate for best actor. But as I said, short attention spans and focus on mindless drivel like the constant barrage of car theft shows indicates a somewhat less sophisticated audience that may not appreciate an intelligent film.
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