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With: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, Frank Gorshin, Christopher Plummer, David Morse
Written by: David Webb Peoples, Janet Peoples, based on a short film by Chris Marker
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 129
Date: 12/26/1995

12 Monkeys (1995)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Time Enough At Last

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Word on the street is that it really helps to see 12 Monkeys twice. I've only seen it once, but I believe that I picked up enough to recommend it. Director Terry Gilliam was the American member of the British comedy sensation Monty Python and went on to direct the movies Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Fisher King. People familiar with Gilliam know they're at least going to get an imaginitave movie.

What we've got here is a fairly complicated plot. There have been movies more complicated, but not in Hollywood and not in the past 15 years. So, mainstream audiences aren't used to this level of thinking in their movies.

Based on a short film called La Jetée, 12 Monkeys is and is sort of a combination between The Fisher King, Brazil and The Terminator. Bruce Willis plays a guy from the future. The film doesn't say (or at least I didn't catch it the first time) but we can guess he's from the year 2035 or so. He goes back in time, first to 1990 by accident, then to 1996 in order to save the world from a deadly virus. That's all you need to know. To explain anything more would ruin half the fun of the movie.

I want to give Bruce Willis some deserved kudos for his performance here. He has given us some hints of acting genius in Mortal Thoughts, Billy Bathgate and Pulp Fiction, but this is an intensely emotional and physical performance that seems to be coming straight from his marrow. Additionally, Brad Pitt, to whom I am slowly warming up, gives a wild performance (he was later nominated for an Oscar). Madeleine Stowe is effective, but lacks a certain strength that the movie could have used.

Gilliam seems to be making a mainstream movie, but his own singular vision is everywhere. Whereas his Brazil required hard work for its rich rewards, but 12 Monkeys seems to go down smoother without compromising anything or dumbing itself down.

12 Monkeys was written by David Webb Peoples and his wife Janet. David wrote Unforgiven and Blade Runner, two movies in my all time top 100. Maybe 12 Monkeys will earn such a place, but I'll have to see it again.

In 2018, Arrow Video release a deluxe Blu-ray edition with fine picture and sound and the following extras: a commentary track by Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Roven, a full-length, behind-the-scenes documentary, an interview with Gilliam, an appreciation by critic Ian Christie, a still gallery, and a trailer. There's also a liner notes booklet that I did not get, since I was sent a press preview copy.

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