An intense film about time travel, this Sci-Fi entry was directed by Terry Gilliam, a member of the comedy troupe Monty Python. The film stars Bruce Willis as James Cole, a prisoner of the state in the year 2035 who can earn parole if he agrees to travel back in time and thwart a devastating plague. The virus has wiped out most of the Earth's population and the remainder live underground because the air is poisonous. Returning to the year 1990, six years before the start of the plague, Cole is soon imprisoned in a psychiatric facility because his warnings sound like mad ravings. There he meets a scientist named Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), the mad son of an eminent virologist (Christopher Plummer). Cole is returned by the authorities to the year 2035, and finally ends up at his intended destination in 1996. He kidnaps Dr. Railly in order to enlist her help in his quest. Cole discovers graffiti by an apparent animal rights group called the Army ...
Brad Pitt received his first Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Jeffrey Goines. See more »
The television in the sanitarium announces that the featured
picture is the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business, but the clip they show is from their first film, believed to have been removed, and replaced with; The Cocoanuts. See more »
Jose - psst! Jose, what's going on?
Bad news, man
Yeah. And they said your name.
Hey, maybe they'll give you a pardon, man.
Yeah, that's why none of the volunteers come back. They all get a pardon.
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The symbol of the 12 Monkeys provides the backdrop for the opening and closing credits. See more »
Full of Gillian-isms, Empty of Willis-isms - in a good way...
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.
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