The Good: Acting, Direction, Characters, Plot, Effects, WRITING!
The Bad: Not a One!
The Basics: A perfect film, even more, the best film I have ever encountered, Brazil is a thinking person's treat.
Brazil is one of those films that people have trouble describing; and well they should, the film does not create a simple plot, instead it makes an entire world. It is easily the best film of all time. Right above Magnolia (click here for that review), Brazil is a nightmare that is easy to get lost in. Anyone who has ever had a job that they hate should watch Brazil.
Brazil follows an administrative error in a society that is overwrought with paperwork and the quest for controlling the populace. The error mistakes a Harry Buttle for Harry Tuttle. In the process, Buttle is captured and interrogated for subversion against the State (which, by the by, is not Brazil). Enter Sam Lowry. Sam is a simple man who spends his days typing interrogation receipts into his computer and his nights dreaming he is a valiant flying man who will rescue the perfect woman and thwart the forces of darkness. The two worlds collide when Sam sees the woman of his dreams in the real world.
Sort of. The woman he sees is Jill Layton, witness to the Buttle arrest and possibly a terrorist. Sam uses his connections to learn more about Jill and he discovers that she is wanted by the government because of her attempts to speak out against the injustice in the Buttle case. In the process, Sam's mother begins cosmetic alterations to look younger and Sam's apartment air conditioning breaks down forcing him in league with Harry Tuttle, renegade repair man.
This is the weird world of Terry Gilliam and it's not terribly far off. The government in the film is oppressive and absent are many civil rights. The film is visually populated by markers and signs that define the creepy, invasive government. Placards like "Suspicion Breeds Confidence" line the walls. The whole look of the film creates a perfectly believable and intricate sense of place.
But place is nothing without characters. Sam Lowry is wonderful as he grows from being willingly complacent with the system to understand the horrors of the world he is a part of. His journey through the ranks of anti-herodom is wonderful and great to watch. The supporting characters are well-defined and quirky. Jill is hardly the damsel in distress that Sam dreams of, his mother is one of the weirdest maternal images ever created, and Harry Tuttle is just plain fun.
Part of Tuttle's appeal is the almost unrecognizable use of Robert De Niro. He's a small part, but he's whimsical and perfectly utilized. Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Sam. He is understated, his face is simple and expressive and he uses his body language wonderfully to convey so much of the changes Sam experiences. Ian Holm is great as Sam's supervisor, Mr. Kurtzman.
The real magic of Brazil is found on the Criterion Collection DVD set of the film. If you enjoy Brazil, or love great films in general, the three DVD set is well worth your money. It has the frightening, masterful final cut of Brazil from Terry Gilliam, a whole disc of behind the scenes stuff and a whole disc with the Studio-edited film. It's amazing to see the difference between what the studio wanted to release and the film as Gilliam saw it.
Brazil is the tale of enduring human struggle against authority and oppression. This is a true masterpiece and well worth the time of anyone who wants to think about what they are seeing.
On DVD, Brazil is magnificently presented by the Criterion Collection with three discs. The first is Terry Gilliam's Brazil, the third is a cut as premiered on U.S. television for syndication (Gilliam references it as the Sid Shienberg cut, it is referenced as the "Love Conquers All" version), and a second disc chock full of bonus features. The features include script development, discussions of the conflict between Gilliam and the studio to get Brazil made and the special effects. This is truly a masterful presentation of the movie and both versions have commentary tracks.
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© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.