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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 20.95%
Average: 9.46%
Pretty Bad: 4.73%
Total Crap: 3.38%

8 reviews, 100 user ratings

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12 Monkeys
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by MP Bartley

"Tough. Complex. Hurts Your Brain. These Are Good Things."
5 stars

Terry Gilliam is one of the most uncompromising 'commercial' directors out there. His films are resolutely dense, unfriendly and absolutely unlike anything else out there. They're also stylish, intelligent and challenging. 'Brazil' was full strength Gilliam, and '12 Monkeys' isn't far behind.

It's easy to see why investors and producers are wary of Gilliam. He doesn't do easy to follow plots. He doesn't like happy endings (Brazil has a blacker-than-black ending and even the 'kids film' Time Bandits ends with our 12 year old hero orphaned when his parents are blown up by a lump of calcified Satan).
And he takes a perverse glee in his casting.

Who else at the time would take Bruce Willis, fresh of the 'Die Hard's' and numerous other frat-boy roles and cast him as a bald, delusional, monosyllabic, mumbling freak from the future. There's no one-liners or 'Yipee-ki-yay' here.

Who else would take pretty Brad Pitt and cast him as a greasy, unkempt psychotic intent on armageddon?

Terry Gilliam that's who. His artistic bravery knows no bounds.

It's 2035 and 99% of the human race has been wiped out by a plague. The few survivors have been forced underground while a new animal kingdom rules the surface. A group of scientists have developed a time machine however and have formulated a plan. All they know about the disease is that it was released by a militant group called the 12 Monkeys. They plan to send a volunteer, Cole (Bruce Willis) back in time to 1996 and find the group and the beginnings of the virus so they can affect its development and halt the plague before it begins. Cole initially ends up in an asylum under the watch of Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and thinks he's found the founder of 12 Monkeys - fellow inmate Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). Now all he has to do is to escape from the asylum, get word back to the future and save the world - but not in your typical Bruce Willis style. And can we really trust Cole's unhinged mind anyway to tell us what's going on?

It's a set up ripe for a Gilliam flight of fancy and he doesn't disappoint as his fertile imagination lets rip here. '12 Monkeys' looks like a younger brother of 'Brazil' with its nightmarish vision of the future. It's all copper tubings, dirty machinery and grubby polythene sheets covering everything. It's a delirious, grim view of hell on earth and makes you wonder if the survivors were the lucky ones after all. But when Cole trips back to 1990's Baltimore, Gilliam makes it look like the beginning of the end. It's a world that seems to be crumbling away, the streets filling with trash and the countryside skeletal and dying. It makes you wonder if the world is ever going to be saved, with the films chilly, hushed atmosphere creating a perpetual sense of creepy unease.

'12 Monkeys' proves that Gilliam is one of cinemas great visualists, as he frames things at an angle, tilts the camera awkwardly and films inmate cells from an impossibly high ceiling. It all creates a dizzying sense of disorientation and distrust in what you're seeing. This appropriately fits the film as it flits back and forth between the future, present and past constantly making you re-evaluate what you're seeing. Sometimes Gilliam's films can become too confusing for their own good, but that's not the case here. The compex plot starts to constrict itself in ever tightening circles, fitting the puzzle together and creating a circular logic that has a tragic resonance to it. Gilliam enjoys crafting downbeat and ambiguous endings and '12 Monkeys' has a doozy of a climax. It makes perfect sense yet leaves the audience yearning to know more as it opens up a whole other world of possibilities.

(On the '12 Monkeys' dvd, there's a documentary 'The Hamster Factor' where Gilliam admits he was initially planning to cut the film off earlier. Thankfully a producer convinced him otherwise as Gilliam's original ending doesn't provoke the debate that it should do).

The cast do stellar work too. Pitt is all ticks and showmanship as the loon Jeffrey, but it's an enjoyable performance all the same, crossing the line between funny and dangerous quite often. Stowe, an often underrated actress, has a difficult job of acting as the audience as she has to piece together the riddle of Coles mission. She does a great job however, and gives '12 Monkeys' a very human focus as she's pulled along with Cole and the truth slowly begins to dawn on her.

And then there's Bruce. See, here's the thing about Bruce Willis. Deep down we (and he probably) know that he could be a great actor if he just applied himself and stopped doing lazy crap like 'The Whole Ten Yards' and 'Tears of the Sun'. Because he's terrific here, and no-one does moody and tortured quite like Willis. He utterly buries himself in the performance and rids himself of his smug quips and smirks. He gives the potentially thin Cole real depth and character, and we feel the inner tragedy of a man who's seen the end of the world and feels powerless to prevent it. There's a lovely scene where Cole is in Railly's car and some music comes on the radio. The look on Willis' face as he loses himself to it is both moving and warming.

The three lead roles are all potentially bland, but the cast fill them with much much more.

'12 Monkeys' has the feel of a production of total conviction between the director and the cast, with them pulling together to create a film that goes beyond the genre trappings of sci-fi into something much more exciting, challenging and deep. It's arty yet accessible, complex but makes perfect sense, doom-ridden yet slyly hopefu, deeply scary but madly entertaining. It's magnificent and it's pure Gilliam.

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originally posted: 09/15/04 23:31:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/06/17 FireWithFire Grow up, terry, you're demented, unreasonable, paranoid, and stuck in the '60s, 1 stars
9/13/17 morris campbell bleak & mind bending 4 stars
1/27/14 Nick Very average movie. Doesn't innovate in any way and there are many time travell flaws. 3 stars
9/19/13 Annie G Can be watched over and over - it's a classic! 5 stars
9/29/12 bob uninvolving 2 stars
7/23/09 Steven M Lol the worst bruce willis film! load of shit!! crap film!! Boring!! 1 stars
8/01/08 Quigley An expertly executed virus thriller with great direction from Gilliam and great acting 5 stars
3/05/08 ladavies Well, unfortunately I thought about it too hard, and hated it. 2 stars
2/05/08 kam Who knew Bruce could act? I'm an official fan now! 5 stars
9/03/07 Double M Interesting, thought-provoking, CONFUSING and a briliiant ending. Gilliams's masterpiece. 5 stars
6/28/07 Ez Waste of my life. i agree id rather walk into a fart at seArs. 1 stars
6/15/07 Steve Newman Great film - wish there more sci fi films like this!! 4 stars
5/04/07 malakogavlis The best film ever behind ''requiem for a dream" 5 stars
4/21/07 fools♫gold Took me a try and a half (a rare thing) to become in awe of it. 5 stars
2/06/07 David Pollastrini saw it but have no memory so it must have sucked 2 stars
1/11/07 Jake Pretty interesting plot with good characters 4 stars
1/09/07 Drew Galletti Brad and Bruce at their best 5 stars
8/05/06 Stanley Thai An over rated movie with a clever ending. Nothing special but still a good movie. 3 stars
12/19/05 Bree It is crazy! 5 stars
10/16/05 Moctezuma A highly entertaining sci-fi flick. Plus, Pitt's performance is flawless. 5 stars
9/02/05 ES Can't run around recommending it, its over the top and has way too much craziness 3 stars
8/08/05 Del IMO, The best Sci-Fi Flick Ever! 5 stars
3/13/05 Ronin One of the best SF movies ever. And it doesn't have spaceships and laser guns! 5 stars
2/14/05 M A Smith Just my kind of movie 5 stars
9/24/04 Al Guy Great movie that requires focus to enjoy. 4 stars
6/22/04 John better than expected remake of La Jetee 4 stars
4/20/04 ALI HBOUS a decent deal 4 stars
2/21/04 Denise Duspiva Creepy 5 stars
1/03/04 A F Best movie ever 5 stars
11/14/03 Gogo All parts fit together. This movie gets even better everytime I'm watching this. Intense! 5 stars
10/17/03 Josh Standlee You have to see it to believe it! 5 stars
10/11/03 Jack Sommersby A near-masterpiece. Imaginative, challenging, w/ an A+ perf by Willis. 5 stars
10/07/03 tatum One of the best science fiction flicks of all time 5 stars
10/01/03 yui the story bring me a great sad feeling, Good 5 stars
7/24/03 Max This film and Pulp Fiction showed us Bruce Willis could actually act. Who knew? 5 stars
7/09/03 natasha_theobald great acting, great direction, fascinating story, something to think about - I loved it! 5 stars
5/24/03 Ryan F. Very trippy. Great performance by willis. Brad Pitt was fuckin awesome!!!! 4 stars
5/11/03 Geo78665 In the top five, of the best films of the 1990s. 5 stars
2/13/03 Cartzca Pity about Willis. Still good enough for me 5 stars
2/11/03 Ubu the Ripper Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. AWESOME. 5 stars
1/23/03 Pinkline Jones It might help if Bruce could Act! 2 stars
12/31/02 Jack Sommersby One of 1995' best. A staggering cinematic achievement! 5 stars
12/22/02 Pigwidgeon TG even got a good performance out of Bruce. And Philly was awesome. 5 stars
9/29/02 Fuze44 It's the end of the world. 5 stars
9/29/02 Morally Sound One of Gilliam's best films. 5 stars
8/08/02 Jack Thompson hell yes 5 stars
8/07/02 Jon Shouldn't a plot have a beginning, a middle and an end? 2 stars
8/05/02 Del Only people who don't like to think would hate this movie 5 stars
7/04/02 KMG I'd rather walk into a fart at Sears than watch 1 millisecond of this again! 1 stars
5/26/02 erick gilliam strikes again 5 stars
2/16/02 Bertha Venation The world will not appreciate Terry for awhile, inexplicably 5 stars
1/27/02 Andrew Carden Highly Overrated, but Still A Very Interesting and Engaging 4 stars
1/10/02 daniboy it's not that hard. a masterpiece 5 stars
12/01/01 Scottish Kilt Decent film, but the end fucked me, a bit over the top. 4 stars
10/30/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) Weird. Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, and Terry Gilliam doing a movie together? That's creative. 3 stars
9/06/01 spaceworm Among so many pluses: Willis gives finger to those who write off his acting talent. 5 stars
7/26/01 dog great movie 5 stars
7/03/01 Obi Wan Loved Pitt in it!! Very good film, good dialogue not all that Hollywood "eyecandy" 4 stars
6/26/01 Geebo Very interesting. About the ending, I am still clueless though. But very interesting. 5 stars
5/02/01 BrainPan Weird, plus Madeline Stowe is one of the most beautiful women on earth now or in the future 5 stars
3/28/01 Monster W. Kung Very good, very sad sci-fi ALMOST masterpiece. 4 stars
2/16/01 Del R Time travel could (almost) make a man go crazy or think he is- AWESOME FILM 5 stars
2/16/01 Jake what trash. 1 stars
6/24/00 Naushad Khanji Willis is as usual terrific.Plot drags.Weak ending. 3 stars
6/24/00 Aaron White Star Wars? Pshaw. Trek? Away with these annoyances. 12 Monkeys is real SF cinema. 5 stars
6/04/00 perverted pixie It's directed by Terry Gilliam and set in the future- It has to be brutal! 5 stars
5/25/00 Elvisfan Brad was great & so was the story; Bruce was less successful, ditto Mad Stowe 5 stars
5/24/00 julie great movie 5 stars
2/23/00 Neil Austin Top film, Pythons can still rule. Pitt was cool too. 5 stars
2/14/00 mark great movie ,terrible ending. 4 stars
10/26/99 Karahde Khan In the 1990s they still make great Sci-Fi films. They're not many, but they do exist. 5 stars
10/25/99 jillian george art director / director 2 stars
10/17/99 Shelagh Excellent!! I loved it. Such an atmosphere ! 5 stars
7/24/99 Hagbard Celine You need to watch this two or three times to appreciate it. Excellent film! 5 stars
5/08/99 davebo I *heart* Terry Gilliam, just a great movie :) 5 stars
4/26/99 Michael Grimm could have been great, Willis made it average 3 stars
4/25/99 JDC Best crafted scifi in a long time. All the leads are great, even Willis. Well thought out. 5 stars
4/21/99 Robert Williams Vivid and thought provoking 4 stars
2/23/99 Jeff Terry Gilliam is genius--this movie is Fantastic--See it. 5 stars
2/20/99 Piz Well intended mess, won't hold a restless viewer, sci fi fans will enjoy. 3 stars
2/18/99 Daria It's GREAT to see Brad acting instead of his hairdo! Good movie... 4 stars
12/31/98 Todd The music alone made this movie 5 stars
12/29/98 Schizofrenic Now that's showbiz! 5 stars
12/09/98 Science fiction flicks doesn't get any better than this. GREAT MOVIE! 5 stars
12/08/98 Shadow Raider It isn't pure shit like Lost In Space and ID4, it's 100% authentic film. Period! 5 stars
11/27/98 BBReBozo The closest Bruce Willis ever got to acting. 5 stars
11/26/98 Mr.Pink Willis and Pitt are terriffic! T. Gilliam's best film!! 5 stars
11/25/98 Fred Pretty good once you realize it's not as deep as it seems to be. 4 stars
11/12/98 Jules I don't know why, but I love fatalistic shit like this... GREAT story! 5 stars
11/06/98 David Torpey Killer movie worth DVDing that has a plot! 5 stars
10/18/98 Kwyjibo Scifi films DO get better and this was no BladeRunner. Willis=pain. 3 stars
10/05/98 Negative Creep Sci Fi Films dont get any better than this. 5 stars
9/29/98 Johny Gilliam is crazy, gotta love him 4 stars
9/23/98 Patti Brad, Brad, Brad...he makes any movie good. 5 stars
9/16/98 Chuck-D the only time I've gone to a mainstream film in a firstrun theater and everyone stayed... 5 stars
9/12/98 kanatcha im too lazy for this... 5 stars
9/01/98 MikeF I liked this a lot. 4 stars
8/26/98 Pete Cool flick. Pitt is amazing. Gilliam is pure genius. 4 stars
8/23/98 Superfly Brad Pitt is amazing in this. Check it out if you like strange movie concepts. 4 stars
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  29-Dec-1995 (R)
  DVD: 10-May-2005

  19-Apr-1996 (15)

  14-Mar-1996 (M)

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