Twelve Monkeys


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Twelve Monkeys
"Dark, bleak and mind-bending, Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys is as good as sci-fi gets."

Fancy a testosterone-heavy Bruce Willis actioner with witty one-liners? Keep on walking my friend and re-visit the Die Hard series. Fancy a deeply-intelligent and unrelentingly-dark apocalyptic thriller also starring Bruce? Bingo! You're in luck.

Adapted from classic French short La Jetee (by scripters David and Janet 'Blade Runner' Peoples), Twelve Monkeys might be Terry Gilliam's most 'studio' picture yet, but it retains his quirky sensibilities. Steeped in the director's distinctive visuals and a foredoomed atmosphere, this dystopian mind-bender isn't just his best, it's one of the Noughties' stand-out sci-fi flicks.

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Back in 1996, a deadly virus was spread worldwide killing five billion people. Now in the 2020s where survivors live underground, scientists send convict James Cole (Willis) back in time to the '90s to gather information and a pure sample of the disease to help them find a cure...

Those who like their cinema all upbeat won't dig the mostly sombre tone, but it fits perfectly with the bleak and nightmarish vision at hand. While the mission is to save mankind, Gilliam wisely knows that realistically such a task is destined to fail and not merely accomplished with a white vest and gun. Beautiful glimmers of hope are evident (like Louis Armstrong's 'It's A Wonderful World'), yet each time the violent-yet-childlike Cole gets sent back to before the plague hit, it's one realistically hopeless situation after another.

First, to a too-early 1990, where he's incarcerated in an asylum with animal activist Jeffrey Goines (a show-stopping Brad Pitt, adding necessary humour). Then, mistakenly, to 1917 amid the First World War (adding credibility, time-travel here isn't an easy, exact-science), which neatly provides proof later on. Then finally, to '96 where a sympathetic psychiatrist (Madeline Stowe, getting it just right) slowly realises her patient may be onto something...

Of course, the idea that Cole might be crazy is toyed with, but for the most part it's clear the post-apocalyptic future is real. As with any time-travel movie, there are chicken-and-egg paradoxes that could provoke debate and insight with whiny, find-a-fault-with-everything filmfan you know. Thankfully though, the twists and turns are all cleverly telegraphed, each rug-pull challenging the mind rather than coming across as a cheap, shock-tactic. In particular, the final moments (don't worry, no spoiler ahead) aboard the plane are open to interpretation. Is the handshake salvation? Or merely an ironic meeting? Multiple viewings aren't essential, but you'll want them...

Dark, bleak and mind-bending, Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys is as good as sci-fi gets.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2011
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Twelve Monkeys packshot
A man is sent back through time from a dystopian world to try and stop terrorists releasing a deadly plague.
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Read more Twelve Monkeys reviews:

Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writer: David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples, based on the short film screenplay by Chris Marker.

Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Frank Gorshin, Christopher Plummer, Jon Seda, Vernon Campbell

Year: 1995

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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