Review by Robert Trate
Terry Gilliam’s films do more than dabble in the world of fantasy. Brazil, 12 Monkeys, The Zero Therom, are to name just a few and perhaps the better ones. So what if the mad genius with the unique eye, takes a fantasy film and sets it completely in the real world? The Fisher King is that real world fantasy. A fallen knight, Parry (Robin Williams), rescues a Soothsayer, Jack (Jeff Bridges) who, as it turns out caused Parry’s downfall. Jack knows that his redemption lies in his helping Parry woo a fair maiden, Lydia (Amanda Plummer), and defeat Parry’s nemesis, the Red Knight.
Parry is not actually a fallen knight, but an English Professor who witnessed a madman gun down his love at a restaurant. That madman was inadvertently sent on his rampage by Jack, a radio shock jock. Three years later, we find Jack on the verge of self destruction and working in a video store. The only good thing in his life is the one thing he cannot see, his girlfriend, Anne (Mercedes Ruehl). It is Parry, in turn, that saves Jack from killing himself, thus setting Jack on a path of redemption.
Robin Williams and Terry Gilliam should have made more films together. The mad genius director and mad genius comedian sing a beautiful song which is The Fisher King. Clearly Parry is off his rocker (how could he not be?) and playing him completely insane would have been easy. Williams gives you enough hints of the sane person Parry once was, as well as his very sane reason to do the things he does. It is a hallmark performance for the actor and worth repeat viewings.
Sadly, Bridges is completely out-shined here. That is not to say his performance is not his finest. In fact, it is. What we has working against him is Williams stealing every scene and Gilliam’s fantasy camera angles and lighting making New York both dark and beautiful. Bridges is a complete asshole in the film and deserves his punishment. Yet through his climb out of his own personal hell, we find compassion for him. Is it that we love a comeback story? One could say that we just want to see Parry have a happy ending, so we have root for Jack to save the day. In the end, our compassion comes from The Fisher King just being Jack’s story. We’ve all made mistakes, said things without thinking, and been forced to deal the consequences. Jack is clearly the very worst of us. In his redemption, we can find hope for our own. That alone makes Bridges’ performance noteworthy. He does it all without seeing fairies or Red Knights. He makes us believe in the magic of finding one’s own soul.
The Fisher King is a tad long. I find it difficult, though, to cut any scene in the film. Can one cut anything with the late great Michael Jeter as the Homeless Cabaret Singer? No. I did find Mercedes Ruehl’s performance to be a tad overrated. In looking back, at the 1992 Academy Awards, perhaps Jessica Tandy should have been given the award for Fried Green Tomatoes. The Blu-ray, as per the usual with Criterion, is amazing. Gilliam’s works always deserve the Criterion moniker and a high definition treatment. The Fisher King is another get addition for the library.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- New, restored 2K digital transfer, approved by director Terry Gilliam, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Audio commentary featuring Gilliam
- New interviews with Gilliam; producer Lynda Obst; screenwriter Richard La Gravenese; and actors Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer, and Mercedes Ruehl
- New interviews with artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds on the creation of the film’s Red Knight
- Interview from 2006 with actor Robin Williams
- New video essay featuring Bridges’s on-set photographs
- Deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Gilliam
- Costume tests
- PLUS: An essay by critic Bilge Ebiri