The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
- James Mottram
- 27 January 2020
It's been a long time coming but the fruit of Terry Gilliam's obsession is not worth the wait
'After more than 25 years in the making… and unmaking,' reads the opening text of Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. After collapsing one week into production two decades ago – following epic, set-destroying storms and issues with star Jean Rochefort's health, misfortune which was captured in the documentary Lost in La Mancha – Gilliam's take on Cervantes' 17th century classic has hung around his neck like a millstone. The result is more unmade than made.
Co-scripted with Tony Grisoni, Gilliam's modern-day riff is a mediocre mess. Adam Driver plays Toby, a sell-out commercials director who arrives in Spain to shoot his latest spot when he realises he's close to the place where he made his student film years earlier: a black-and-white Cervantes-inspired art film. In it, he cast Jonathan Pryce's cobbler – a man who has come to believe he is the chivalrous hero, Don Quixote.
When he encounters Pryce's Quixote, who mistakes him for the character's loyal servant Sancho Panza, so begins a rambling journey – on motorbikes and donkeys – that feels like outtakes from a bad Monty Python movie. There are violent encounters with the police and a run-in with Toby's boss (Stellan Skarsgård), whose trophy wife Jacqui (Olga Kurylenko) the impudent director tries to seduce. Then there's village girl Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), whose life has gone awry since Toby once innocently flirted with her.
Although Gilliam is a director who has the potential to delight, compared to the films of his wildly imaginative heyday – The Fisher King, in particular – this feels old and tired. Full kudos to him for stubbornly realising his vision, but the extensive rewrites have put paid to any freshness. Driver feels oddly out of place, his protagonist largely unlikeable. The female characters are one-dimensional, and Pryce's madman is, well, maddening. It's a bit of an ordeal.
Selected release from Fri 31 Jan.