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Brazil
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by Jack Sommersby

"Looks Great, Less Filling"
2 stars

You can clearly see where all the money went, but practically to no avail.

Not a whole lot need be said for Terry Gilliam's extravagant big-budget U.K. production Brazil, except to aver it's the very ultimate in style-over-substance - to quote none other than William Shakespeare, it's chock-full of sound and fury signifying nothing. We're informed from the onset it's "set somewhere in the twenty-first century," a dystopian future straight out of novelist George Orwell's nightmarish 1949-written cautionary fable 1984, and it's both facile and heavy-handed practically from the word go. In this oppressively gray-colored environment in the exteriors and interiors, this martinet-controlled society is ruled by a dictator-like prime minister who abhors any semblances of individuality and so much as an iota of free-thinking rebellion; the predominating governmental department keeping an ironclad hold over things is Information Retrieval Services, whose budget consists of seven-percent of the country's entire GDP. Unremarkable bureaucratic pencil-pushers in cramped offices using worn-out computers are the lay of the land, the standout of the bunch being the nondescript Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce), the son of a wealthy socialite always trying to use her connections to get him to be promoted higher up in the hierarchy; but Sam wishes for nothing loftier or more ambitious - beat-out by what life's afforded him thus far, he's perfectly content to just go along and be another cog in an endless wheel. He has fantasies of a woman, though - that of a monster-truck-driving blonde (Kim Griest) who he dreams about but abruptly wakes up when the two are about to connect, which propels him to accept promotion to get access to the database that will reveal to him her identity. But since both actors fail to impress, and their characters no more than two-dimensional, we could care less about their plight, and consequently the movie has no center, no gravitas, even though Norman Garwood's production design and Roger Pratt's lighting are, without a shadow of a doubt, extraordinary. So make no mistake, Brazil is painstakingly great-looking, but Gilliam, he of the Monty Python comedic troupe who previously did the not-uninteresting 1981 Time Bandits, is incapable of linking the sequences either dramatically or narratively - thematically, yes, but almost any director can do that in superficial terms when piously trying to get across a "big message." As was the case with Ridley Scott's overappreciated Blade Runner, Brazil is forever muddled and emasculates its characters in top-heavy imagery in that nothing genuinely emotional manages to break through all the densely-rendered visual fog; by the fifty-minute mark the initially-striking visuals are redundant to the egregious point where you become downright inured to them, and wish Gilliam would just calm down and occasionally do something simple - not simplistic, mind you, but simple. (The movie wants to be universally heralded merely for the attempt at genuine art rather than the actual achievement of it, which was the opposite case with writer/director Michael Radford's quietly devastating big-screen adaptation of Orwell's book from the previous year.) Aside from the occasional arresting image, the only element in Brazil I sincerely enjoyed was Robert De Niro's lively performance as the unorthodox, unlicensed heating-engineer Archibald Tuttle, a true maverick who does late-night house calls when his government competitors are asleep at the wheel. Sly and revving with the pure and total pleasure of acting, De Niro serves up a mini-classic portrait you wish an entire motion picture were centered around.

A Blu-Ray Criterion is available for those cult-classic fans.

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originally posted: 01/04/21 21:44:46
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USA
  18-Dec-1985 (R)

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