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Saturday, 20 January 2018

Retro Movie Review: The Fisher King (1991) #RobinWilliams *reposted with updated score*

The Fisher King
Cast: Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Rheul, Amanda Plummer, Michael Jeter 
Genre: Fantasy drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $41 million
Trivia: one of the men who attack Jack and later in a dream sequence, Parry is played by Dan Futterman, who later on appeared in 1996's The Birdcage as Williams's Armand's son

Plot: A former radio disc jockey, suicidally despondent because of a terrible mistake he made, finds redemption in helping a homeless who was an unwitting victim of that mistake 

'Uneven & Whimsical Fantasy Drama With Some Good Performances, Yet Is Patchy'

The Fisher King is one of those movies where for all of its surreal and at times flashy imagery, lies a tale of two strangers coming together against evil, putting aside their difficult and dark pasts and really trying to make efforts in moving forward in their lives. 

It has been misinterpreted as a comedy because this film is anything but that. Although it does have some light moments in it. 

Robin Williams as Parry was an extraordinary presence throughout the duration of this film and yet at the same time, I also thought at times he was a little too eccentric in his performance: as his character, I felt his pain, his anguish, his turmoil, his sadness but also he had heart, he always tried to do the right thing. When Williams goes a bit loony here, it felt a bit too much for my liking. Parry was a good guy, who had a great career (was previously a teacher), great and happy life, but after experiencing the horrific murder of his wife by a crazed gunman, who eventually turns out to be one of Jack's listeners and of whom he kills himself during a live phone-in, things take a turn for the worse for Parry, with the incident evoking strong and horrible feelings and memories of her death. The performance and the manner of that performance walks a fine line between humour and drama that is played out with conviction and emotion, even if he does get a little carried away. With Robin Williams's performance as this character, you know, people can continue talking about whether he was sad and depressed in real life at the time of the making of this film, and whether or not this role of his had reinforced that. But this review focuses solely on his performance and his role, and that performance as Parry was, in most ways for me, exceptional. 

British Director Terry Gilliam, who is most well known to audiences for comedic fare, Monty Python carves out a visually expressive, eerie and at times, hauntingly atmospheric tale culminating in the lives of 4 people: Jack, Jack's girlfriend, Anne (played brilliantly by Mercedes Rheul), Parry and Lydia, the woman of whom Parry has a crush on. The film centres on Parry's search for the Holy Grail & according to God and some other people that Jack is the chosen one and the only person who can save Parry from the Red Knight, but beneath all that lies a story about redemption, forgiveness, about figuring out what is more important in life after experiencing a tragic situation, and of hope. There are some interesting scenes involving Jack and Anne, as they bicker, argue, fight, break-up.... only to kiss and make up in the end. When it shifts to Parry and Lydia's romance arc, I didn't necessarily feel that connection that they had together and bought into Robin and Amanda as an onscreen couple. 

Even though the film has received huge praise for Williams's portrayal, Jeff Bridges as Jack isn't too far off either, in fact, he was all right, but I think many will see that his character is underwritten and feel as though he hasn't truly and completely made amends for his past actions that led to the tragic incident: although his irresponsibility, arrogance, cockiness, his whole off-putting demeanour comes into question as he considers his own values and morals and that his own behaviour is not just having a negative effect on his listeners, but also on the people he loves most, in particular, Anne. But the effect of Jack's attitude and behaviour becomes, even more, earth-shattering and pain-inducing for Parry, who is constantly having to live with these horrible memories that he is unable to shake off. I loved Mercedes Rheul's character, Annie and her performance; and when I think hard about it, it is probably the performance of this film. I admire how strong and loving and caring she is towards Jack, but also she has a layer of depth and that her character seemed very direct, straight to the point, as well as more genuine on the face of it. 

The film not only drums up some well-acted cast performances, it has a whimsical, offbeat and at times mystifying fantasy approach towards contemporary themes. This is an interesting take on how people deal with and react to tragic situations from the past life, and how with Jack and Parry - and but more so Parry it can get all too overwhelming.... and even bordering on destructive. 

I was a little disappointed that within the story, the issue of mental illness of whom Parry, himself, is indeed a sufferer, - and this was an opportunity for the writer, Richard LaGravanese to emphasise this point during the film -, doesn't emerge and is never tackled. Another issue that he overlooked is how Williams's Parry never confronts and grills Jack over his indirect involvement in, or be it held him to account for Parry's wife's murder and that Jack didn't ask and beg for his forgiveness. That part was and is a tad fishy and had it been alluded to, I think it would have tied up loose ends in this particular chapter. 

One of the highlights of The Fisher King for me doesn't involve Robin Williams per se, but funnily enough by Michael Jeter, whose character was in drag, and for no apparent reason burst into song. If that doesn't make you smile whilst watching this film, then I'd give up. 

The appearance of the Red Knight acts as a metaphor for Parry's fears and of his own mental and emotional state, but also it evokes the trauma of his wife being murdered in front of his very eyes that occurred a year or couple of years ago. & it is the trauma he had to live with all this time. It is only by confronting and defeating the Red Knight, that Parry would be rid of these demons; a task of which he struggles with, as he wrestles with his emotions. 

Director Terry Gilliam made this quote in 2014 to the Hollywood Reporter about Robin, where he says: 
''Hollywood had probably been very cynical that his stuff wasn't working, but the world loved him.... and that was because he was so utterly unique'' 
He was right and to this day, reading this quote he is still right, because despite some of the motion picture misfires he has made, as an actor and performer, even with Good Morning, Vietnam, the Hollywood movie industry still looked down on him and didn't take him seriously. With roles as varied and captivating as Parry, Adrian Cronauer, John Keating and Sean Maguire, Robin Williams proved what a tour-de-force he was as a dramatic actor. He had one not so good decade: the 2000s and beyond - okay, make that 2 decades, but the 1990s, boy Robin Williams was flying and busy as a bee, and he starred in some quirky and offbeat efforts such as this one. 

The Fisher King's aesthetic appearance is very colourful and vibrant at times, but also abnormal, but in a good way that is, and yet its impressive visuals mask the film's psychological and emotional impact that is all the more real, forceful, sad, but also poignant and hopeful too. This is still a mishmash of contemporary plotlines and situations with traditional medieval themes which is unfortunately further hindered by the religious aspects, which were a little overdone and that Williams's and Bridges's characters lack a bit of weight; throw in some characters and excellent performances, and what you have is a surreal drama that is unique in some ways, but it also is not quite the finished article and the story jumps around too much. & I didn't like the rendition of 'The Power' song and that they should have used the official version by Snap!. Luckily, there are a few moments such as the subway dance and Jack and Annie's rocky romance that goes through a rough patch and still, their love remains strong, that still do it for me and these outweigh some of its weaknesses. 


Pros +

- Visually impressive & well-crafted film 

- The singing man in drag

- The station waltz & Red Knight chase scenes

- Interesting blend of contemporary plot-lines and situations with medieval themes

- The Jack and Anne relationship & Mercedes Rheul

Cons -

- Williams's performance when it bordered on the manic was a little too OTT for my liking

- The leading male characters, Parry and Jack feel a little underdeveloped 

- The Parry and Lydia romance didn't work

- When it becomes too dark and the flashback scene where Parry's wife is murdered, it can be disturbing for some viewers; was difficult for me to sit through

Final Verdict:

Robin Williams was practically robbed of an Oscar for Good Morning, Vietnam, and here too he was robbed of one for this film as well (although thankfully he made amends with the Golden Globe triumph). The Fisher King is moving, visually atmospheric, and at times powerful. But it is evident on the third or fourth viewing for me that it is stifled by the necessity of the story in yo-yo-ing up and down. That and the pairing of Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer as the female love interest and their romance arc never convinced me enough. 

I usually like LaGravanese's writing style, but it did feel at times as if he ought to have delved a little deeper and extract that out of the characters. 

One of Terry Gilliam's admirable efforts, but also one of Robin Williams's bold attempts at being a dramatic actor, which as a fan I enjoy seeing, alongside doing comedy roles. Yet in hindsight, Williams himself, despite some out of this world moments and a somewhat strong turn from him, he was still far from his best here and whilst The Fisher King is very good at most or best, it is patchy and felt there needed to have been a little more to make it truly worthwhile. 



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