13 February 2005 | bob the moo
Imaginative, clever, engaging and very enjoyable one of the best sci-fi's I've seen
In the future humans exist underground, the surface having become uninhabitable due to the release of a virus years before in 1996. The ruling classes are scientists and large sections of the population are held as prisoners in tiny cells; prisoners who "volunteer" to help work out what happened back in 1996 that killed off 99% of the population. Requiring information about the visit, James Cole is sent back to 1996 to gather what information he can. However, sent to 1990 by accident, Cole finds himself in a mental hospital where he meets From the very start this film marks itself out as being very much a Terry Gilliam product and those who hate his work will probably dislike this film for the same reason. However, pleasing people like that is not my concern and 12 Monkeys is actually one of Gilliam's most accessible films as it sets his imaginative style within a narrative that is satisfyingly complex and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The story is not perfect though, the connection to the start is nice but the ultimate twist behind the virus just seems to have been thrown in to keep the film tidy; a minor complaint though because even then the main thrust of the story (Cole) keeps it together. The twisting plot plays with both Cole's and our sense of reality and it is genuinely gripping from start to finish Gilliam's direction is superb, whether it be the realistic world of the 1990's filmed with clever angles and shots or the wonderfully twisted world of the future, it is all excellent and was such a pleasant find in my local cinema at the time.
The film benefits from great turns from the cast. Willis was having a bit of a career resurrection in the mid-90's when several films showed us that he could actually act for me, 12 Monkeys was one of them. Willis is superb as he spins from madness to sanity and back again; he underplays all the way and is so much better than the wise-cracking everyman that he is better known for. Pitt is just as good but in a different way. Getting an Oscar nomination that he deserved, Pitt risks overdoing it but pushes his crazy performance as far as he can without being indulgent I'm not saying he is perfect but I would could this as one of his best performances to date. Stowe is very much in the shadow of these two but she holds her own well. Morse, Seda, Meloni and Plummer are all good in minor roles but really the film belongs to the lead three Willis in particular and Pitt in a great supporting role.
Overall this is a great sci-fi; the story is great and is only helped by Gilliam's imaginative direction and awareness of the fantastic. Meanwhile the cast are very strong, with the famous leads giving some of their best performances to date. Downbeat, imaginative, engaging and one of the more accessible of Gilliam's films, it stands out as one of the best American sci-fi's of the past few decades.