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Brazil 
(1985)

Not my favourite Gilliam but, as undisciplined as this certainly is in places, it emerges, more than the sum of its parts, as something of a masterpiece. I'm now a good few years older than Jonathan Pryce was when he played the part, which gives added resonance to Sam Lowry preferring to live in dreams than reality (Gilliam went back and forth on the age of the character before deciding that he absolutely had to cast Pryce in the role).

The design is as impressive as ever, with the choice of real locations complementing Gilliam's slightly over-sized, wide-angle lensed, cartoonish world perfectly (James Acheson providing the costume designs); particularly that power station stack interior. The script presents a very mid-20th century well-mannered face of bureaucracy, with its retrofitted world. But it's one that feels as relevant today, gripped by terrorist incidents where no one has ever met the terrorists, where detention and disappearance of individuals occur daily and no one bats an eyelid; and it's only a mistyped form that stirs things up.

The cast are - almost - uniformly excellent. Pryce's dreamer is utterly ill-equipped to deal with any world outside of the mental (which is why he finds traversing the wheels of state process so easy but also so uninteresting - although, like everyone else, he has just been getting on with his job ambivalent to the horrors that are its by-product), repeatedly unable to clearly distinguish reality from fantasy.

Palin as his apparent best friend gives possibly his career-best performance, certainly his most chilling (the scenes with his kid - Gilliam's own - are wonderfully macabre). And De Niro's rogue heating engineer is a rare winning comic turn from the actor (but he's just the type that Gilliam brings out the best in). And there's a wealth of other supporting talent stuffed in every frame; Bob Hoskins, Ian Richardson, Katherine Helmond, Peter Vaughn, Ian Holm.

The weak link here is Kim Greist as Jill, the subject of Lowry's dreams. Gilliam, in his usual cheerfully blunt way has recognised this. The only other film I know her from is Manhunter, where she's fine. But here she just doesn't have any presence or charisma. It's not just a case of the girl of Sam's imagining not meeting his expectations; she's also an uncomfortable fit for the role in the dream sequences, and when she succumbs to Sam's bumbling earnestness. Far better if Gilliam had gone with his personal pick Ellen Barkin.

There's a decent documentary from the period on the UK Blu ray, which I hadn't seen before (probably because it's Fox produced and this is a Fox release of the extended cut - it wasn't on the Criterion DVD). Lots of frank discussions; Palin's entertaining as usual while the intercutting between Tom Stoppard and Gilliam over the script challenges is a highlight.

*****

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