Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

12 Monkeys

Year: 1995
Running time: 129 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: David Peoples, Janet Peoples
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, David Morse

Cole meets Jeffrey Goines, possibly setting the whole thing in motion.
It would seem, based on his cinematic output, Terry Gilliam the director is completely insane. But, luckily for us, he’s also a total genius, and 12 Monkeys is proof of both. Set in a bleak future where the surviving 1% of the human race has been driven underground by a deadly virus released in 1997, James Cole (Bruce Willis in a role which, along with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, shows that he has acting talent far beyond what he’s often given credit for), is selected by a group of ruling scientists to go back in time to try to collect a sample to bring back, which they hope will help them reclaim the surface, long since the domain of wild animals. What follows is a fractured, mind-bending ride.

Cole is sent back too far at first, all the way to 1990, where he is promptly locked up in a mental institution. While here he meets the manically insane but oddly charismatic Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt, in a film highlight), an animal rights activist whose scientist father (Christopher Plummer) is experimenting on lab animals using the very virus that almost wipes out the species. He also meets psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeline Stowe). Moving in time again to the original target of 1996 (via a quick detour to WWI, where he conveniently gets his photo taken), Cole kidnaps Railly in an attempt to prove that his insane story is true. They find their way into Goines' underground movement the Army of the 12 Monkeys, which Cole is convinced are responsible for the release of the mutated virus.

Battered in mind and body, Cole begins to doubt his sanity, wondering if he really is a time-traveller after all. In a great juxtaposition, Railly begins to find evidence showing that Cole's story really is true. As the audience, Gilliam keep us as off-balance as Cole with jarring framing devices and connections made across time periods, even referencing a scene from Hitchcock's Vertigo; the twisting plot really does defy expectation.

Cole and Railly, doomed to attempt to change the unchangeable.
The pieces come together during the course of the second half, when Cole and Railly try to change the course of the future, which turns out to be impossible, as Cole knew all along, although he still couldn't stop himself from trying; a pretty perfect distillation of what it means to be human. The climax takes place at an airport where a young Cole sees himself, living out a recurring dream that has haunted him for years. One of the best things about this film is the unconventional ending, which refuses to break the rules it has established - the timeline cannot be altered, and our hero ultimately fails and loses his life in the process. You get the feeling that the Hollywood machine would have gone down the Back to the Future route and had Cole saving the world. Thank the gods of cinema for Gilliam's artistic integrity.

However, when we see one of the scientists from the future on the plane at the end, we’re given a little glimmer of possibility that maybe he did enough to give a ray of hope to the future - they finally have their sample, and now maybe they can begin to rebuild.

Disorienting, striking and uncompromising, this is a lasting testament to the film-making genius of Terry Gilliam.

Score: 8/10

12 Monkeys is very well-liked out there, as shown by this review from Peter at Rolling Stone, but while she also has some positive things to say, this review from Katie offers a different perspective.