I’ve never been a big fan of director Terry Gilliam. While I do love his work with Monty Python, I always feel alienated by his movies. Brazil was too weird and over-the-top for me to get into. 12 Monkeys, on the other hand, is a much easier watch and is a film I admire much more.
The film is about a man named James Cole (Bruce Willis), who lives underground in 1996 with others as a deadly epidemic leaves the surface of the Earth inhabitable. Cole is sent on a mission to travel back in time to 1990 to find out was caused the deadly epidemic. Afterward, he’s thrown into jail and assigned a psychiatrist named Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), as telling people you’re from the future doesn’t make them believe you’re sane. Later, Cole escapes from jail and meets Railly again in 1996 in order to find twelve monkeys who have the virus that would eventually start the epidemic.
Part of my complaint about Brazil was that it was too confusing and hard to follow. 12 Monkeys is much simpler and I found it far more compelling. Gilliam co-wrote the script with David Peoples, who did the screenplay for Blade Runner. Like Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys boasts an array of mind-blowing visuals that still seem revolutionary in today’s CGI filled world.
The performances also deserve praise, particularly Brad Pitt as an animal activist who may cause the spread of the virus. Willis is also strong as Cole, putting his tough guy persona in good use.
Gilliam has created a truly engaging piece of cinema. It’s darkly humorous, but isn’t a true comedy. It succeeds on the levels of visual storytelling and is an exciting and riveting picture.