Release Date: 1995
Director: Terry Gilliam
Why I picked this: The cast, and I haven’t seen any Terry Gilliam films
Time travel and sci-fi is nothing new, but many of these movies have their own unique takes on it. The best time travel movies use time travel as a tool rather than being the centerpiece of the plot, and that is the case in this movie. The script is definitely a smart one, and director Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame continues to prove that he has a sharp eye. The production design was one of my favorite aspects; the movie is sci-fi, but the sets, especially with the smart use of certain camera angles, give off a fantastical vibe with a feeling of entrapment and oppression, and the outdoor environments are desolated; even some scenes taking place in the present, such as a mental asylum looks more stylistic than realistic. I especially liked the use of traditional special effects. All of the effects, even the transitions from one time to other, looked like they were done on-camera, something that should be appreciated. The story involves James Cole, played by Bruce Willis, a prisoner from a post-apocalyptic future after a virus has wiped out five billion people on Earth. He is involuntarily “volunteered” to be sent back to the past, specifically 1996, to gather information involving the origin of the virus, presumably so the virus can be eradicated. Cole is initially sent to 1990 by accident, where he is jailed and meets psychiatrist Kathryn Railly, played by Madeleine Stowe. Cole, delusional after the time travel, is sent to a mental institute, where he meets mental patient Jeffrey Goines, played by Brad Pitt in the best performance I’ve seen from him. Pitt is electric in this role; he is finicky and fast-talking, and is always the focus whenever he is on-screen. Bruce Willis is great as well, but he is upstaged by Brad Pitt every time they’re together. Madeleine Stowe is good in her role; she occupies a lot of screen time after being kidnapped by Cole for help, and their relationship changes as she begins to understand him more. However, her character is mostly a vehicle for the events in the movie, and I never found her character to be that intriguing. The plot takes its twists and turns, and it gets confusing at times, but by the end, the audience should have a good understanding of what happened. The story is complex, but everything is tied together by the time the movie ends. There are various recurring visual motifs throughout the film, and noticing them is a rewarding experience.
Most of the elements of this sci-fi film work, especially the production and set design, special effects, writing, and a very memorable performance from Brad Pitt.