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12 Monkeys

Starring Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, and Brad Pitt
Screenplay by David Peoples and Janet Peoples
Based on the French film Le Jetee by Chris Marker
Directed by Terry Gilliam

WARNING: Cranky is an animation fiend. 12 Monkeys director Terry Gilliam made his name as the American member of Monty Python's Flying Circus -- the guy who did all the outrageous animations for that television series. Cranky is a big fan. OK, you're warned. Python is the past, Monkeys is the future. So let's look to the future....

Your life is a living hell. It is, perhaps, a nightmare from which you cannot awake. Five billion people have died on the surface of the Earth from some kind of virus; the survivors hide underground. Primitive time travel technology will allow you to move back in time, to gather information that could lead to a vaccine or a cure. But the Law being what it is, you cannot change the Past to affect the Future.

Then again, you might be totally crackers insane, out of your mind.

Welcome to the world of 12 Monkeys.

Bruce Willis plays Cole, the Traveler. He must seek out the origins of the "Army of 12 Monkeys" for it is believed that this army brought about the destruction of the world. Cole's memories of life before the virus come to him in fragmented dreams. They must be dreams. If they were memories, well, why is his shrink in them?

That would be Madeline Stowe, as Dr. Kathryn Railly. She first met Cole in 1990, treating the drooling, disoriented, superhumanly strong man in an institution for the insane. At that time, he escaped from a straight jacket while locked in a room with no possible means to escape. When they next meet, in 1996, she may convince him that he is insane. He may convince her that he is telling the truth. Or his desperation may suck her into his insanity, to the point that she develops feelings for her patient.

Or all three.

The third player in our story is Jeffrey Goines, Cole's companion in the nut house, played by Brad Pitt. His father is rich and powerful, and works with biological viruses. That's all I need to say. Except that Pitt's performance is completely over the top. It is visually insane. Pitt is almost monkey-like in his movements, and you would well believe that the man is having the time of his life with this part.

12 Monkeys is a Terry Gilliam film, which means nothing is simple. The future bears a resemblance to the techno-gadget-dominated settings of Gilliam's Brazil. As in that movie, the escape from an oppressive present could yield a (potentially) rosy future. Sorry. I'm writing in symbolic, comparative terms that only a Gilliam nut would comprehend. Or maybe a film student, I apologize. There is humor buried in the horror buried in the insanity. There are layers and layers of tiny story points that seem to have nothing to do with each other, but have everything to do with each other. There are visual clues buried in advertisements on the sides of buses, in four color slicks pasted on the sides of abandoned buildings, and in department store promotional displays. The production detail is extraordinary, and that alone merits multiple viewings of the film. If you're into that type of thing.

12 Monkeys was well written by David Peoples and Janet Peoples, almost to the point of excess. But what a glorious excess. It is a brilliant template to work from. This is not a Die Hard- Bruce Willis action type of movie. Everything that is hinted at will happen at some point in the movie, but there is so much of it that, like Cole, you may very well find yourself totally discombobulated. There is too much buried here to get it all in one viewing, which is typical of Gilliam's work. It worked against him in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He pulled back, and found great success, with The Fisher King. I can only guess that 12 Monkeys is an attempt to find a balance between visual detail and story detail. But it is almost too much. During the first hour, you will sit and think to yourself, "What the **** is going on?"

During the second hour, you should be able to begin to pick apart the mystery. And by the time the movie ends you will either walk out of the theater thinking, "Yep, just like they said it would end..." Or you'll be terribly disappointed that the movie does not tinker with time, as so many other time travel movies have.

Everything is laid out clear as crystal from the first minute, and it is not until the very last minute that it all makes perfect sense. That's a dangerously fine line to tread.

There was scattered booing in the theater where I saw 12 Monkeys. This came, I believe, from the people expecting Die Hard 4. The dozen or so patrons I spoke with afterwards all enjoyed the film but, to a point, were disappointed with the ending. All for different reasons. But, of this dozen, all associated Gilliam with his film Brazil, rather than with his hit The Fisher King. Make of it what you will.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for 12 Monkeys, he would have paid . . .


And that being said, I will repeat: The script is brilliant, when all is said and done. The visuals are great. And I will see this thing again -- indeed like most of Gilliam's films, I'll buy a copy when the laserdisk comes out. But I would not have immediately reentered the theater on another ticket.

12 Monkeys is, in turn, inspired by the film La Jetee written by Chris Marker. Anyone out there who would like to make a comparison is hereby invited to.

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