“There’s no right, there’s no wrong, there’s only popular opinion.” – Jeffrey Golnes, Twelve Monkeys (1995)
I should just point out before I start this review, I really like Terry Gilliam. He was great in Monty Python (1969 – 1974) and pretty much everything he has done is good. Apart from this. I’m not honestly sure what I hated so much about Twelve Monkeys. Whatever it was ruined the entire film for me. I loathed it. I despised every second of this film. From start to finish the film just rubbed me the wrong way. So for me, this review is more or less trying to figure out where the film went so wrong. What did I hate about this film? It’s supposed to be a classic, right? Not for me.
A deadly virus in 1996 has wiped out the majority of the human race. In the hopes of finding a cure, a team of scientists send James Cole (Bruce Willis) back to 1990, hopefully to find a cure. There he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), who, well, I’m not too sure. I’m pretty sure he’s the villain of the piece, it’s just not made clear. This, to be fair is where the film starts to falter. The only thing I am sure of is that the plot to me just doesn’t make sense. The main aim of a film should, ideally be, to make sense. That’s not really something Gilliam does, and more power to him. It’s just at times you want to watch something that makes sense. This was one of those times.
I think my lacking sense throughout this film is definitely down to a lot of the performances throughout. Bruce Willis gives a fairly interesting performance. I’m honestly not sure what to think of it. Much like the rest of the characters in this film he jumps from one extreme to the next not being able to settle on anything. By the end of the film he still hasn’t found a role that suits him and it’s evident throughout. Still, it’s not as bad as it could be. Really he just presents the same level of confusion I held throughout the film.
Brad Pitt won a Golden Globe for his performance in this film. I’m not sure why or how, but apparently they were just giving those things away that year. Genuinely, I thought his performance was pretty damn bad. I’m not sure what type of role he’s trying to play, therefore I don’t know what he’s trying to show me. One scene he’s a schizophrenic nut in a mental institution, the next a worldwide terrorist. It was such an insanely quick shift that I couldn’t get used to it. Either way, his performance really wasn’t that good. Not Golden Globe worthy, that’s sure as shit.
I think a problem for me with this film was the way it was shot. Look, I have no problem with artistic films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), but Twelve Monkeys is just something different. I don’t think it helped that I wasn’t a fan of the small screen vision the film used. Not only that but the film also tilted the camera for almost every scene. I don’t know why they did this though. There was something about it that just didn’t work. Although it was a unique angle to take, it wasn’t unique when almost every shot in the film did this.
By making every shot this tilted angle, it loses the charm. Even in scenes that could have benefitted from this angle were made worse. For me it was disorienting. It was like found footage but as if it wasn’t very good. To be fair I am being a little harsh. For what it’s worth, I did actually like some aspects of the film in regard to how it looked. The lighting was on point and to be fair, the camera angles did have at least a hint of originality to them. But the overall feel of the film for me wasn’t enough to create a decent enough narrative. It’s better than nothing of course, but still, doesn’t create for any decent viewing.
A main feature of this film for me was the use of lighting. I suppose it was fairly good throughout, some scenes didn’t bother with it. Still, later scenes and the dream sequences were made obvious towards the end of the film using the lighting. The use of the white light in the hospital sequences was very well crafted. Above all it really did add to the mood of the film and to me it added quite a lot. It was one of the better aspects of the film, for those brief few moments.
I do think I need to make it clear though, I do like Terry Gilliam. Something for me just didn’t click with this film and I’m still not sure what that is. Maybe it was the acting, I really didn’t like the performance of Brad Pitt in this film. Hell, it could have been something a lot more simple like the dialogue or something like that. Whatever the case, I just didn’t like this film. Honestly I’m not sure why people like this film so much either.
For me Twelve Monkeys tries too hard to make itself relevant. It tries to be as cutting edge and politically commentated as it can. But to be honest, it just doesn’t fit into the narrative that has been presented throughout the film. There’s just something off putting about the narrative as a whole. It tries too hard to make something cognative of its narrative and in turn manages to do nothing. Maybe that’s just me though, everyone else thinks this film is amazing. As usual, I am wrong.
But aside from mocking myself, my thoughts on Twelve Monkeys is probably extremely different to your thoughts on it. I find it to be irreverently dull and trying to hard to keep itself a relevant topic. Others may find it to be cutting edge sci-fi. To me, it was just bad. It’s a film that even the best reviewers struggle to review, it’s a film you can’t talk about. But is that the point? Well if that is the point then it has done it’s job. Gilliam has created a film that I simply cannot review. Not because it’s so amazing, but I can’t figure out where everything went wrong.