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The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – Movie Review

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The Man Who Killed Don Quixote – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Cineplex Events

One of the most infamous unfinished productions in film history was Terry Gilliam’s attempt to make a movie inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The problems with trying to get the film made have been well documented and it’s nice to see he finally got the chance to complete it. Leaving beside the behind-the-scenes issues plaguing the project, the final result is a funny and imaginative adventure yarn that does well in highlighting the role of cinema in shaping our view of reality vs. fantasy. While Gilliam’s usual visual flourishes don’t really come through until the third act, his fingerprints are nonetheless all over The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

A lot of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote rests on the shoulders of Adam Driver as a commercial director thrust into this madcap tale. He serves as our avatar, trying to make sense of the whole ordeal and being unexpectedly thrown in multiple directions. His Toby is a flawed individual, but his frustrations do come across well in Driver’s performance. He shares a good amount with his screentime with Jonathan Pryce, who believably shows this shoemaker’s delusion of being Don Quixote. He manages to be incredibly sympathetic, while also bringing laughs by just how far he digs into the role. The two of them make for a winning mismatched pair.

The film takes on an episodic structure, which fits the story Gilliam is telling. There is an unpredictability in the turns taken and where Toby finds himself next. Gilliam frequently plays with our perceptions of reality and invention, as the movie cleverly bounces back and forth via flashbacks, dream sequences and films within the film. He is almost commenting on cinema itself and how movie magic creates images out of pure fakery. There is a fascinating juxtaposition between the scenes of Toby’s memories of the small Spanish village he shot a film in ten years earlier and its current state. Movies are, in many ways, time allowed to stand still. Meanwhile, the real world continues moving around us.

Terry Gilliam is a director known for his use of fish-eyes lens and other visual techniques to bring us into the strange worlds he creates, but there is a surprising lack of that during the first half of the film. He directs the film rather straightforwardly, although his cinematographer Nicola Pecorini does a beautiful job of filming the landscapes. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote does start to feel a little long-winded in the third act as we focus more on the relationship between Toby and a woman from the village. Gilliam spends quite a bit of time on this, but it lacks the interesting interplay Toby has with Quixote. Thankfully, we’re provided with enough creative visuals to keep us going.

It’s wonderful to finally see Terry Gilliam’s passion project finished and in the can and the result is a relief to witness. In typical Gilliam fashion, the movie is commenting on a lot, but it rarely becomes overwhelming. There are the wild comedic touches that have long been a hallmark of his career, going back to his Monty Python days, and he has two excellent performances at the centre to help move the story along. While a tad overlong, it’s still a solid work from a director who has been able to beat the odds multiple times in his filmography and he deserves a toast for accomplishing this long gestating dream.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison