The Fisher King can be viewed as an oddball dramedy like several others during one's initial viewing, but then suddenly you're struck by the hallucinations of Robin Williams's character, namely the sight of the large, outlandish, scorching red figure of a demonic knight coming to kill him. Things like this seem at once to throw the film out of balance a little bit, like the film is making a straight line and suddenly makes a sharp and brief stab upward, and then back down to continue the line in the straight way it was before. One has to think about The Fisher King and realize just how largely, outlandishly, scorchingly different it is. Think about this plot when you're watching the film. You'll realize how well it modestly unravels instead of contriving itself to mystify us. The filmmakers show no ego and are not interested in impressing themselves. They are telling their vivid, dynamic story the way good films are made. The story is just completely fresh and new. And with that in mind, thinking outside the box along with Terry Gilliam and Richard LaGravanese, one shouldn't even think of the brief sporadic fantasies the film splashes at us here and there as anything so jolting.
Jeff Bridges turns in a fantastic, despicably likable performance. I say this not so much because I believe he has a universal effect on anyone who understands or enjoys the movie. I say this more because I related to him greatly. I felt like his character was very familiar with his self-centered angst, bitterness lathered on top, an emotional and sexual nature quite like mine, and frankly the performance in a serious relationship quite like mine. Bridges, who I have always thought of as a very good actor, has my kudos for understanding to the point of successful portrayal a type of person who is rarely completely understood.
Robin Williams, constantly underrated at this point for his self-indulgent bombast and personally difficult, nonstop communication of his sense of humor, is proved in this, as well as several other films I could mention, that he has true talent and feels his characters to the very core and projects as such. It is not and never has been right to reduce judgment upon him to surprisingly shameless look-at-me-fests like Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, and Good Morning, Vietnam, because he has always been tremendously capable. Above all, I think he is an actor whose work is founded upon intuition. He communicates his physical and psychological portrayal by emotional understanding and deep feeling. When you watch this film, do you not have that clutching grip upon his character's pain? Are you not taking that journey face to face with him?
Mercedes Ruehl is not a token here. She is not just the voluptuous Brooklyn Jew girlfriend who nags, criticizes men, and makes dinner the whole time. That is the way her character lays out, because that is the path the emotional position of her presence in the story leads. She is perhaps the strongest, most decisive, and understanding person of all four main characters, and believably so. She is also very sexy and very natural. Take the scene with her and Bridges stumbling with laughter down the street after the dinner scene. She is quite real in a scene that with many other players would've been annoyingly not so.
Amanda Plummer is a sad portrait of a very realistic person, ironically enough in a film that is greatly surreal. She is the lone wolf that drifts through life, crippled by a complete lack of self-assurance and with age has become extremely used to it. Plummer's rich, seldom screen time is great, very wise acting. When she is suddenly accosted by the attention and adoration of these other three people, she reacts, and I feel like I know many people who would react the same way.
The Fisher King is in my opinion the first great film Terry Gilliam ever made. He had never made a bad film before this one, but this is the film that really made me connect. It's filled with emotional understanding of the human condition and a parallel story and cinematic style that are so acutely unique and naturally offbeat. It is among the definitive Gilliam films. Perhaps the click that sounded off for a truly effective film came with the connection of very similar, very compatible perspectives between the writer and the director. It's a determined, forceful, emotional, passionate, and secretive movie.
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