- Film & TV
- 26 Feb 20
25-years in the making opus proves overcooked and underbaked.
Terry Gilliam has always been a director with mindbending imagination and vision – and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is perhaps his most ambitious undertaking of all. A riff on Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel, Gilliam first spoke of the idea in the ’90s, and began production in the early 2000s. But as fans of Keith Fulton’s documentary Lost In La Mancha know, the production was plagued with flash floods, financial problems, injured actors and airplanes, until it ceased completely.
It’s thus no wonder that this movie, “25 years in the making and unmaking”, has become an examination of the creative struggle and how artists grow and evolve – or fail to. Adam Driver replaces Johnny Depp as Toby, an over-indulged director shooting an advert in Spain, where, 10 years ago, he made a student film about Don Quixote. Toby decides to revisit the locals who starred in his apprentice effort, seeking out the passion and idealism he apparently left in the dusty rural village.
When he finds his former leading man Javier (Jonathan Pryce), he discovers that the elderly cobbler has spent the last decade believing himself to indeed be Don Quixote. Reluctantly, Toby is dragged into many a misadventure as the deluded man’s Sancho. Fantasy and reality blur as the duo fight with cops, save a damsel, run from grotesque creatures, and invade costume parties run by Russian oligarchs.
The meta, layered film clearly signals that Toby is Gilliam, and Gilliam is Don Quixote, both grand and somewhat delusional in their quest for the impossible – virtue, originality, legacy. Driver grounds the bonkers action and surreal sequences with some existential angst and through Toby, Gilliam explores the cost of the creative process, and how even promises of fame and fortune can destroy people.
The film is messy, with an occasionally strained script and meandering sequences. Yet it could still have been an interesting exercise in self-reflection, if Gilliam’s vision wasn’t so unabashedly sexist. His female characters are all beautiful, often half-naked, seductive ciphers – teenagers included. If we do indeed “become what we hold on to”, Gilliam may have held onto a doddery old man a little too long.