Monday, September 06, 2004

Movie Review: The Fisher King

United States, 1991
U.S. Release Date: 9/20/91
Running Time: 2:17
Rated: R (profanity)
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer

Director: Terry Gilliam
Producers: Debra Hill and Lynda Obst
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese
Music: George Fenton
Studio: Tri-Star Pictures

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The quest for the Holy Grail has been depicted on screen in many instances. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Excalibur, and Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail have all dealt with the hunt for Jesus’s drinking cup—the symbol of God’s divine grace. The Fisher King, yet another film from director Terry Gilliam, is a quaint and unique tale about how humanity and salvation can come from the most unlikely of sources. Underneath The Fisher King’s quirky artistry, its redemptive aspects, and its Christian symbolism, the film combines to make an eccentrically enjoyable motion picture.

Jack Lukas (Jeff Bridges) is one of those rude, shock disc jockeys who insults and belittles every caller and listener and still somehow sees his ratings climb. With his radio show being a success and with television offers streaming in, Jack’s career looks to be on the upswing. Subsequently, just after signing on to no longer be just a voice, but now also a face, Jack’s quest for stardom takes an unexpected dive. Apparently, one of the radio station’s troubled, frequent callers took Jack’s comments a little too seriously, and went on a shotgun shooting rampage inside a stylish, high-class restaurant—killing seven before turning the gun on himself. Now, with Jack Lukas at fault in the media’s eyes, his future in show business doesn’t look too promising.

Fast forward three years later, and we find the once self-centered deejay to be drunken and distraught. After placing the blame of the seven deaths on his own conscience, Jack thinks of himself as one of the lowlifes—one of “the bungled and botched.” He resorts to drinking his worries away, wandering alone on the streets at night, and even attempting suicide. However, just before Jack is beaten to death, he is saved by Parry (Robin Williams), a homeless man who thinks he is a knight in search of the Holy Grail. Parry is your stereotypical, crazy bum; he mumbles to tiny, fat, floating fairies; he runs from visions of Red Knights, and he thinks that the Holy Grail is sitting on a bookshelf in a Fifth Avenue mansion. Parry also believes Jack to be “The One” – the chosen one from God to retrieve the Holy Grail – and even though he may not be “The One”, there may be some sense behind Parry’s lunacy.

Once Jack discovers that Parry, the homeless mess, was formerly Henry Sagan the college professor and husband to a lovely woman who was suddenly shot to death by – you guessed it – a crazed and troubled listener of "The Jack Lukas Show," he feels that he owes Parry more than a helping hand. In the process, Jack not only hopes to help Parry, but he also hopes to find his own Grail and rid himself of his lasting guilt.

Without Terry Gilliam in command behind the lens, who knows what angle of approach any other director would have taken? Gilliam brings his abnormal expertise to the table and adds two touches to the film’s screenplay that were not there pre-Terry. His addition of the graceful Grand Central Waltz turns out to be the film’s centerpiece. And, his incorporation of the many Pinocchio images makes this feature deep and delightful. Gilliam’s Pinocchio idea further illustrates (metaphorically) that Jack wants to be a “real boy”—or in this case, a real human being with a heart.

Mercedes Ruehl delivers the lead of her life, that unquestionably warranted her 1991 Academy Award win, as Jack’s supportive girlfriend. On the male side of the spectrum, Michael Jeter steals the show with his debutante-with-a-mustache role, while Bridges and Williams really don’t standout. Bridges plays his part well, but for the most part, he is just under-the-radar of being notable. Williams performs a portrayal that is basically already his typical zany self to the tee; he flaunts around just as much as he normally does in most of his comedic films. However, here he does take a couple of daring risks. At one point, he goes off into a monologue on mystical bowel movements. Then, later in the film, Williams strips down to nothing with - as he says - “the little guy danglin’.” Even so, I assure you there is no need to worry; a bare Robin Williams still appears as if he is wearing a wool jumpsuit—his burly body hair really makes him look more like a furry animal than a naked human-being.

Despite this films unnecessary nakedness and rather lengthy running time, it is still an eloquent screenplay under the management of a master director. With Gilliam’s typical touch of testing the lines of fantasy and reality, we are treated to this part-realism/part-idealism concerning the importance of believing not only in yourself, but also in others.

While The Fisher King is not one of Gilliam’s best, it is still a highly regarded holistic effort. Its hints of mythology, grace, and spirit are just enough to allow the picture’s prevailing foundation to resound in your soul. Even though The Fisher King doesn’t exactly reign supreme, it still deserves its reverence and gains my approval. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004