The Man Who Killed Don Quixote review: Disappointingly dated
Ivan Radford | On 07, May 2020Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce
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It’s been the best part of three decades since Terry Gilliam first started to adapt Don Quixote for the screen – a process of doomed productions and legal battles that was partly captured on screen in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha. Now, he’s finally finished his take on Miguel de Cervantes’ novel, and there’s some satisfaction in seeing the persistent director realise his vision.
It’s a shame, then, that it’s a vision 30 years out of step. The movie begins with a painfully apt false start, as Gilliam and co-writer Tony Grisoni introduce us to director Tony (Adam Driver) who is struggling with his own version of Cervantes’ book. The meta-framework he’s given is pleasingly self-aware, but it’s also populated with dire female characters who behave like someone’s dated idea of how women might act, rather than actual human beings.
Such two-dimensional, sexist stereotypes are inexcusable today, but they’re unforgivable from a film that’s had nothing but time to be read, re-evaluated and rewritten. The opening 30 minutes are an awkward watch that feels old-fashioned but not in a charming way.
The movie’s saving grace, fittingly, is Jonathan Pryce’s Don Quixote – or, rather, an actor who thinks he’s Don Quixote. Pryce is magnificent as the confused, dim-witted but kind-hearted old fool – when he and Gilliam are at full tilt, there’s gold in them windmills, as worlds and objects collide in a fantastical farce that’s stuffed with practical effects and tangible invention.
But it’s too little too late; when the real part of a surreal dreamscape doesn’t convince, it’s hard to go along with the silliness when it does arrive. Yes, it’s satisfying to see Gillian still going at it after all these years, but that satisfaction comes with an equal dose of disappointment.