The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Joana Ribeiro, Olga Kurylenko, Stellan Skargard
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…a fascinating mess
The novelist Graham Greene once quipped along the lines that “Don Quixote is considered a great novel because nobody ever finished it”. What a delicious irony there is in relation to Terry Gilliam’s obsessive and relentless pursuit to get to film Cervantes’ iconic tale. As many movie buffs will know, Gilliam tried to get the project up over a very long period and his attempts were always thwarted by a combination of things that sink films; failure to get finance, creative differences, inappropriate casting and so on. There is even a killer documentary about this saga with the perfect title Lost in La Mancha (2002).
Now the time bandits have re-landed as it were and, in 2019, the film is releasable. In this iteration, if that is the right word, Adam Driver takes the role of Toby (essentially Gilliam), who is going out of his mind trying to get the film made. He has cast his Quixote (the wonderfully versatile Jonathan Pryce) but the old actor is also having difficulty in not falling into the role and then being unable to get out. To make matters worse, Toby has unwisely flirted with the girlfriend of his boss (Stellan Skarsgard) and there is a good chance that a violent retribution will befall him.
While the baffled and exhausted crew wait on, Toby becomes a sort of dragooned Sancho Panza and follows the now-deranged Quixote on a picaresque sojourn through the desert regions of Spain, thus ensuring the very chaos he has sought to avoid.
It is a great circular premise and writers Gilliam and Tony Grisoni want it to amuse and bemuse in equal measure. This is a double-edged sword of course, because there is always the danger that we will just get lost ourselves and become tired of the whole charade.
Gilliam himself has form here. He can be so inventive and perhaps so unable to listen to common sense (he has had several projects blow their budget/time line etc) that he ends up producing a fascinating mess.
He was never the most logical of thinkers, but he has great madcap powers. We owe him his seminal visual contribution to the Monty Python. We really can’t be too cross with Gilliam, after all some of his iflms have been near masterworks (Brazil, The Fisher King). It can be exhausting keeping up with him, but we should still go and see his films and just be grateful that this too-bland world contains a mind dedicated to such glorious folly.