After 29 years in production hell, Terry Gilliam’s (‘The Brothers Grimm’, ‘Brazil’) ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ is finally here... and that’s about the most interesting thing to say about it. Tony Grisoni (Adam Driver, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, ‘BlacKkKlansman’) is an advertising executive struggling with the production of a new commercial that happens to be filming in the same place he filmed his award-winning student film ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’. Throughout these struggles, Grisoni is lead on a journey through rural Spain where he meets the actor who played Quixote (Jonathan Pryce, ‘The Wife’, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’) in the original film - only now he fully believes he is the man himself and mistakes Tony for Quixote’s squire. The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by Stellan Skarsgård (‘Thor’, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’) and Olga Kurylenko (‘Quantum of Solace’, ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’).
'THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE' TRAILER
First off, the positives - Adam Driver is incredible, and while I have seen him do comedy before he was so alive in this, his energy was so high and made a dull film very enjoyable. He is very emotive and I was really enjoying his performance, would love to see it used in a better film. Outside of Driver, the cinematography is really good, once again done by frequent Gilliam collaborator Nicola Pecorini (‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’, ‘The Zero Theorem’). Rural Spain looks beautiful, and there is a lot of creative uses of wide shots throughout the film.
Now everything else. It’s not that this is bad film, it’s just extremely forgettable and uncaptivating, and the two-plus hour run time does not help this. Everything just needed to move faster, be a little weirder, and a little tighter. As it is, the film is just an empty shell. There is a moment where Quixote sees pieces of hanging meat with eyes on it - a weird image, yet nothing else in the film is quite that weird, and it adds nothing to the film; it just gives the audience a confused look of their faces. The film plays with space and time, so we are never really sure if Tony Grisoni is reliving a memory, has time-travelled back to Quixote’s time, or is dreaming. While on paper that sounds fun and interesting, the film isn’t really sure what to do with that, and you never feel the need to piece it all together. It’s a less thought-out ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’.
After 29 years in production hell, Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ is finally here... and that’s about the most interesting thing to say about it.
You can tell Gilliam is going for a whole "life imitates art" kind of message about how directors get wrapped up in the work and all that metatextuality. But it never really fulfils that message; it’s very surface level. For me, Terry Gilliam has never wowed me. He always gets a great cast and some fascinating ideas, but unfortunately ‘The Man who Killed Don Quixote’ is another one of his films that is half-baked.
The most interesting thing about the film is the history surrounding it. Starting production in 1989, it's one of the most infamous examples of development hell. Robin Williams (‘Aladdin’, ‘Jumanji’), Johnny Deep (‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’), Ewan McGregor (‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Christopher Robin’) and Jack O’Connell (‘Unbroken’, ‘'71’) where all cast in Driver's role at one time, and it wasn’t until 2017 that the version we have here started filming a whopping 28 years after production began. In 2000, a version began filming with Depp but due to flooding and Depp’s busy schedule, the production fell through. It was documented in the 2002 documentary ‘Lost in La Mancha’ (originally intended to be a behind the scenes film) with a follow-up due out this year titled ‘He Dreamed of Giants’, which fills in the blanks between that production and the final product. They both sound more interesting than the film itself.
Gilliam has reinvented history and iconic characters from the past before, but ‘The Man who Killed Don Quixote’ isn’t worth the 29-year wait. While Adam Driver shines, the rest on the film needs another polish.