The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Starring Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce
In UK Cinemas January 31st, 2020

by Alex Plant

Could any movie live up to 25 years worth of anticipation? Perhaps a better question would be can Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote escape the shadow cast by its well documented and highly troubled quarter-century-long journey to the big screen? If the finished product proves to be anything less than his magnum opus then surely by definition it’ll be a disappointment. Or is it simply destined to become another gloriously strange slice of the indefinably weird pie that is Gilliam’s body of work. The answer, much like the movie itself is complicated.

Toby (Driver) is a disenchanted filmmaker working on an advertisement inspired by the classic tale of Don Quixote. After a seemingly chance encounter reminds him of a student film he once made inspired by the same source material, he visits the star of his early work, a Spanish cobbler (Pryce) who over the years has come to believe that he is the real Don Quixote and that the returning Toby is his faithful ward, Sancho Panza. The lines between fiction and reality blur as Toby finds himself pulled into the very story he’s trying to recreate.

Like the best of Gilliam’s work, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is an intriguing and often very fun ride. However, on more than a few occasions the script feels a bit too much like something that was written 25 years ago. Sure, there are allusions to Brexit and Trump in there, but many of the jokes and even some of the characters (particularly Olga Kurylenko’s one-dimensional trophy wife) feel like they should have stayed in the previous generation.

Driver is as engaging as always but sadly this film has had the bad fortune to come out hot on the heels of his stellar turn in Marriage Story. Make no mistake though, this film belongs to Pryce, who has the ability to switch between confused old man and dashing Knight Errant at a moment’s notice. It’s a terrific reunion between actor and director and his performance is easily the movie’s highlight.

Gilliam has made a film that knows that it’s difficult to follow and he frequently revels in the madness (at one point, during the baffling third act, Driver is asked if he’s been following the plot to which he incredulously responds “There’s a plot?!”), but the fourth wall breaks do occasionally feel a bit hollow. The whole thing looks fantastic though, particularly the briefly glimpsed shots of Toby’s student film, in which Gilliam expertly portrays the vision of a young hungry filmmaker.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’s biggest achievement is that it got made at all. The big difference between this and other famously troubled productions is that the incoherence in the final product is intentional. It’s full-throttle Gilliam, but it never quite reaches the heights of Brazil or Twelve Monkeys.


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