The Fisher King

The Fisher King

(Terry Gilliam, 1991)

Rating: 5/5

Reviewed by Dave Lancaster

Summary
: A love story for the outcasts and underdogs, Gilliam's The Fisher King is a magically affecting film experience.




The Fisher King is a film for those in the gutter, the ignored, downtrodden by society, whose suns and moons are obscured by clouds that never seem to shift. It's a beautifully uplifting picture that has, and will surely continue to, stand the test of time.

Terry Gilliam's 1991, Manhattan-set drama stars Jeff Bridges as a loudmouth, ego-driven DJ whose blunt advice to one caller on his radio show results in tragedy and capsizes his career just as television was calling. The face of that tragedy is a homeless man (Robin Williams) whose quest for the Holy Grail is interrupted by fire-breathing monsters and his fractured past.



Richard La Gravenese's script does a superb job of fusing these two disparate characters into harmonious momentum with Bridges and Williams delivering some of their finest work, finding light in anguish and depth in the ridiculous. Expertly judging these shifts in tone is director Terry Gilliam, robbed once again of an Oscar (not that his eyes have ever really seemed fixated on the prize when the stories always have more room to breathe outside of a locked trophy cabinet).  

Who else can let a horny Robin Williams run riot singing on a table then follow it up with the flashback of a violent massacre and make the shift seem not just natural but vital to the development of the characters? It's Gilliam's off-kilter expression that gift The Fisher King with its energy and urgency as well as something missing from so many other films: surprise.

I've seen The Fisher King a few times now, years apart from each viewing and have been affected in different ways. I know where the plot goes but it never fails to move me and catch my emotions off guard. To see it again is like revisiting a place where something important happened to you - the memories subsequently shaped by what has transpired since. It has evolved like its characters. As relationships have matured and eyes have widened, The Fisher King has soared in my estimation. Despite walls of VHS tapes and Jeff Bridges' shoulder length grungy hair, The Fisher King is not restricted to its release year of 1991 but explodes out of the calendar to remain as timeless as the stars. It's an urban Don Quixote spraying graffiti over Hollywood's windmills. It'll never rot.   



Gilliam's picture stands as a truly fitting tribute to the talents of Robin Williams - his vibrant, infectious rhythm and his darker depths of wisdom are all on display here. He gives us so much in this film, screaming and singing his heart out. Like Bridges' character, you feel you owe him something for his troubles. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to (re)watch this classic urban fairytale. It looks and sounds great via Criterion Blu-ray, certainly warranting the upgrade from the old DVD.

The Criterion Blu-ray contains the following:

  • New, restored 2K digital transfer, approved by director Terry Gilliam, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring Gilliam
  • New interviews with Gilliam, producer Lynda Obst, screenwriter Richard La Gravenese, and actors Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer, and Mercedes Ruehl
  • New interviews with artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds on the creation of the film’s Red Knight
  • Interview from 2006 with actor Robin Williams
  • New video essay featuring Bridges’s on-set photographs
  • Footage from 1991 of Bridges training as a radio personality with acting coach Stephen Bridgewater
  • Deleted scenes, with audio commentary by Gilliam
  • Costume tests
  • Trailers
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Bilge Ebiri

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