Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Movie Review

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, Andrew Garfield
Director: Terry Gilliam
Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room - yes, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is the last film with Heath Ledger in following his untimely death.
But it's important to note, he's only part of an ensemble cast - and isn't the real star of the film; granted there'll be a lot of attention on it because of that, but that's not the main reason to see this.
Anyway, I've got a bit ahead of myself there - plot wise, it's the fantasy tale of Dr Parnassus (a wonderfully world weary Christopher Plummer) who travels the land with his carnival troupe (including Verne Troyer of Austin Powers fame) and his daughter Valentina (a porcelain doll like Lily Cole).
Granted immortality, Parnassus is locked in an ongoing battle with Tom Waits' Devil - and the Devil has arrived to collect his due. You see, years ago, Parnassus wagered his first born and now to stop the Devil taking what's his, he bets he can win over five souls.
Into this mélange of madness in modern day London, arrives Heath Ledger's shyster Tony. Mysteriously left for dead, he's taken in by the troupe - and could be the tipping point in Parnassus' quest to finally beat the Devil.
Yes, it's sprawling and a bit unfocussed at times, but The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is perhaps one of the most visually original pieces of cinema you'll ever see - there are flashes of pure genius from director Terry Gilliam as he weaves his surreal web.
Within minutes of the film's slightly sinister opening, we're thrown directly into the wondrous world of The Imaginarium and see what wonders it offers those who peer in. I don't really want to spoil the visual surprises on offer moments into the film - but suffice it to say, I'm pretty sure you'll have never seen anything this audacious or original up on the big screen before - both in terms of landscapes and scale - it's simply awe inducing.
If there's a star to this film, then it's director Terry Gilliam - while Ledger shows why he was always a cinematic presence, his dodgy dealer Tony, with his Jack Sparrowesque stylings, is not as outstanding a performance as his portrayal of Joker in The Dark Knight (although it was never meant to be). The rest of the cast are pretty damn good too - from Waits' seedy Devil to Plummer's put upon Parnassus, to Lily Cole's debut performance; each rise to the challenge laid down by their director.
Gilliam has had the wonderful visionary flair to create something magical among the mundane; his flights of fancy transform the film and turn it into something fantastical and new.
It was, after all, his vision which allowed him to give the film a life after Heath Ledger's death; it was his idea which gave Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law the chance to be part of it - and he manages their arrival into proceedings flawlessly and so perfectly, you have to double take how you've been given the visual equivalent of sleight of hand.
It's not a perfect film - and its rambling ways and narrative sometimes threaten to derail it; but for flights of fancy and unique spectacle, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is astonishing on so many levels. The journey is fantastic and so moving that by the end, you'll fight hard to keep a tear back.

If this is Ledger's legacy, then he can be grateful Terry Gilliam helmed his final outing - because what they've produced is simply unique. Easily one of the best films of the year - if only for the sheer audaciousness of it all.

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