See Genius on Display in “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”

Terry Gilliam went from Monty Python member to maker of such wonderfully weird films as Brazil and The Fisher King. Gilliam has been famously trying to make a film about Don Quixote for 25 years.

In his last major attempt, Johnny Depp was slated to play the title character. That failed attempt ultimately bore a pretty fun documentary about what an epic disaster the production was (Lost in La Mancha). Given its source material, it’s appropriate that this project has proven such an unobtainable obsession for Gilliam. The story of the man who tilted at windmills has become the very windmill at which Gilliam has been tilting. However, that metaphor only holds as long as the director fails to conquer his would-be giant. But, after a circuitous journey, the film is at last finished. At its center are excellent performances by actors Adam Driver and Jonathan Price (plus plenty of Gilliam’s surreal, magical-realist flair).

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The result is a story that blurs the line between illusion and reality, delusion and purposefulness. Toby (Driver) is a hotshot young director phoning-in a commercial for booze that uses the Don Quixote story as its visual hook. He’s surprised when a copy of the student film he made a decade ago, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, mysteriously surfaces. And this sends Toby down a rabbit hole of his own as he explores past mistakes. That he’s sleeping with the wife of his boss (Stellan Skarsgård) adds to the chaos. Even more ensues when he discovers he has inadvertently coached his Don Quixote (Price) into madness. The feverish odyssey begins yanking Toby along. The narrative slips so frequently between reality and fantasy that audiences may soon not be sure whether there is any difference. The Word: Gilliam is a master, but what he’s attempting is a tight-rope walk of filmmaking that may not make it to the other side. Though it would be nice to congratulate Gilliam on finally slaying his giant, this Quixote may be one more windmill-tilter — and yet another grasp for the film its creator truly dreams of creating. Coming to: Streaming.

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