MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Comedy-Drama/ Stars: Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer, Michael Jeter, David Hyde Pierce, Lara Harris, Harry Shearer, Kathy Najimy, John de Lancie/ Runtime: 137 minutes
I feel like The Fisher King was a very unique film for Terry Gilliam to set himself toward making. That is because, unlike his first four movies, this one is set in the Big Apple, comes attached with a powerhouse Hollywood cast, but is still very much made in the same fashion and contains the kind of content that Gilliam is best known for utilizing. It also, much in the same vein as his 1985 masterpiece Brazil, contains quite the complicated narrative and, like a lot of his previous endeavors, really delves into the complex relationship between what is real and what is a product of the mind. Yet unlike his previous efforts, this one also has an ingredient that the others didn’t have that helps ensure this is a true must-see. That ingredient is humanity. Not just for ourselves, but for those around us. Indeed, with the help of a talented cast and phenomenal script, The Fisher King deftly takes on some of the most unsettling questions about life, love, and our ability to connect with one another, and does so in a provocative and intelligent way that makes this a movie that you will not only enjoy when you watch it that very first time, but is most definitely one you will cherish and wish to revisit time and time again.
The plot is as follows: The Fisher King tells the story of a man by the name of Jack Lucas. Lucas is the kind of radio talk-show host that would make Howard Stern proud, but everyone else would most likely want to sock dead in the face. Yet even with that hanging over his head, Lucas still proves to be quite the cold, callous, cynical jerk whose only interest is in himself and his career. Well that is until one fateful day when he makes some truly heartless comments to the wrong caller who proceeds to take Jack’s comments to heart in a way that results in 8 people being killed….as well as Jack’s career in the process. 3 years later and Jack is now a drunken and bitter wreck living with his long-suffering significant other Anne. Suffice it to say that Jack is desperate need not only for a rescue, but for a second chance. However it isn’t long before life sends one his way in the form of being saved one gloomy night by a pair of vicious punks by a slightly crazed homeless man by the name of Parry who has the particular quirk of thinking he is a knight on a quest for the Holy Grail and that Jack was sent to help him. It isn’t long however before Lucas realizes that he and Parry are linked in a way he never saw coming, and so, seeing an opportunity to redeem himself, Jack seeks to aid Parry not only on his quest, but in romancing a girl that Parry has found himself attracted to. Suffice it to say though that by the time he is done, Parry and Jack will have managed to change each other’s lives in ways that neither could have truly seen coming…
Now this film’s narrative in and out of itself is quite immersive and would honestly make for a fantastic novel. Imagine my surprise then dear deader to find out that this movie was actually a novel and completely fresh and original idea. Thus I honestly feel that hats off is in order for this cinematic adventure’s writer. Indeed I say this because the writer behind this film did a fantastic job in not only the creation of the narrative, but also in the packing of enough comedy, fantastical elements, exciting moments, and even emotion and blend all together to make one heck of a movie. Indeed, in the eyes of this reviewer, one of the finest examples from the film itself is set at a train station as we witness Parry following his lady love through a crowd of people. Initially this scene begins as a truly routine, run-of-the-mill type sequence where people are just simply striding to and fro throughout the station. Yet as the scene plays on, we quickly see it evolve into a truly whimsical dance floor as everyone starts to engage in ballroom dancing all while Parry pursues his oblivious lady love. Indeed it might be slightly humorous to view, but it’s still important because not only does it showcase Parry’s imagination being brought so vividly to life, but it’s the perfect showcase for how seamlessly this film manages to combine on screen what is going on in the real world alongside what is going on inside a person’s mind.
Now the characters in this film are not only fully-realized and completely three-dimensional, but the cast all do a wonderful job of making them all feel like real people and not just caricatures. Indeed this starts with Robin Williams as Parry because even though this gifted man was known for his comedic talents as well as popping up in family movies like the Night at the Museum films, he also a severely underutilized talent for bringing grade-A work to dramatic roles as well as seen in such films as One Hour Photo, Awakenings, and of course, Good Will Hunting. In his role as Parry however, Williams managed to blend together comedy, pathos, and heart in order to give audiences a truly distinct yet absolutely phenomenal performance as a decent man who, despite the loss of his marbles, is not too far removed from that beautiful concept known as hope. Indeed it really is unfortunate that he had to square off against Anthony Hopkins for the Oscar that year because if Hopkins hadn’t been in the running then I think there’s an extremely good chance he would’ve took home the gold. We also get treated to amazing work from Jeff Bridges who manages to separate himself both on a physical and psychological level from his usual screen persona to give us a riveting look at a man trapped by bitterness and regret and who desperately wants nothing more than to just do the right thing for once and who, through Parry, discovers what is truly worth living for. We also get scene stealing and Oscar-caliber work from Mercedes Ruehl as Bridges’ love interest. Yes she is comical, but she also has a strength and passion about her that is absolutely phenomenal and a desire to do whatever she can to help get Bridges’ character his humanity and lust for life again that is absolutely heartwarming. Indeed this is the kind of turn that, deservedly wins awards, and so I’m glad that Miss Ruehl was given an Oscar for her efforts. Finally even though Amanda Plummer is limited in the amount of screen time that she is given, especially when compared to the previously mentioned trio, but she still manages to showcase not only a terrific sense of comedic timing, but also a beautiful chemistry with Williams as the cute, yet dotty Lydia who is the object of Parry’s affections. Indeed everyone in this movie from the 4 main stars all the way to bit parts beautifully played by David Hyde Pierce and Michael Jeter all manage to do wonderful and quite potent work.
Now in addition to wonderful work from the writing and acting sides of things, I also feel that Terry Gilliam does a wonderful job here of making a movie that is in equal measure a Terry Gilliam film, but also in a lot of ways not like his previous movies up to that point. Indeed even though Terry’s fondness for vector shapes, tilt-awhirl style-camera angles, and an immersive sense of the fantastic is accounted for, it is not utilized to the point of overabundance or reliance. It is also worth pointing out that, compared to such films of Terry’s as say 12 Monkeys and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen that this one has a more straightforward and linear narrative that it wants to tell which I think is terrific because you’re not constantly trying to figure out just where you are in the story. Yet nevertheless I do feel that Gilliam once again does a phenomenal job and manages to showcase him yet again as one of the entertainment industry’s more artistically unique directors and true visionary.
All in all The Fisher King is in my opinion the first “great” film Terry Gilliam ever made. Now make no mistake: Gilliam had honestly not made a bad movie before this one came out in the early 90’s. Yet I say that this one was the first great movie because this was the first film of his that I could really connect with on a much deeper and more human level. Indeed this is a movie which is brimming with comprehension on an empathetic level not only about what it truly means to be human as well as the nature of being both a redeemer and a redemptor at the same time, but also possesses a side narrative and film style that are incredibly original and organically off kilter. Thus thanks to these intriguing concepts as well as a fantastic director, an incredible story, and a truly wonderful cast this most definitely serves as one of a truly distinct visionary’s more human films in a filmography that is truly full of wonder and spectacle. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Fisher King “91” a solid 4 out of 5.