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USA 1995
Directed by
Terry Gilliam
129 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

12 Monkeys

With Terry Gilliam at the helm, you know to expect black humour and conceptual gymnastics with a good deal of Heath Robinson type gadgetry and that is exactly what you get with 12 Monkeys which was scripted by David “Blade Runner” Peoples and his wife, Janet.  Inspired by a classic of art cinema, Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962), it tells the story of a virus spread by an animal activist group headed up by Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) that in 1996 kills five billion people and the efforts of James Cole (Bruce Willis), a “volunteer” who travels back in time from 2035 to collect information about the virus that will help its survivors live safely above ground again.

Gilliam is always more about concept and execution than dramatic nuance but for all his visual flair, the action movie form has too strong a hold here for the film to be much more than a fairly conventional Hollywood ride tricked up with the director's flair for eccentricities, not least of which is Pitt’s entertaining performance as a rich kid loon. I must admit that I couldn't exactly understand the ending, which is replayed multiple times throughout the film as Cole's recurring dream, but by that time I was too over-stuffed with visual and conceptual stimulation to have any regrets.  As with much of Gilliam’s polyphonic output your response to 12 Monkeys is likely to depend very much on your mood at the time.

FYI: For those interested in Gilliam's work, a 1996 documentary The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys chronicles the production.





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