Brazil (1985) - ****
So I’ve done a pretty bad job at juggling my film major studies and my film blog but I’ve still been watching movies and I finally have some time to do a review. Hopefully there will be more to come.
Brazil is the story of Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), a man working in a small department in the British utopian society of the future. Of course this facist society isn’t quite as well organized as you may think and the smallest of small errors (The names Tuttle and Buttle are very similar, you see) leads to all sorts of headaches for everyone who works there. Sam is already unhappy but this error leads him to meet the girl he’s been dreaming about, a truck driver named Jill Layton (Pam Grier). The problem is that Jill has made herself quite a nuisance in the Buttle/Tuttle error as she wants the government to right their wrong and explain why her neighbor Mr. Buttle was harshly abducted instead of the man they were looking for, a rogue outlaw repairman named Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro). But Sam is in love and takes a promotion he doesn’t even want just to learn more about Jill. His bosses tell him to mind his work but Sam’s too far gone: Jill is all the matters.
The thing I would point out about Brazil that my description doesn’t do justice is that it’s very, very funny. Certainly director and Monty Python alumni Terry Gilliam is no stranger to comedy and Brazil is full of great little gags and humor that doesn’t beat you over the head (well, except for Tuttle and Sam’s revenge on the workers who seize Sam’s apartment).
Pryce plays Sam well as an affable, average hero who starts to act out when his heart overpowers his head. Gilliam was supposedly unhappy with Grier’s performance as Jill but as a character she doesn’t speak a whole lot and she does a fine job at looking good. De Niro’s role as Tuttle is small but he steals nearly every scene he’s in. And a cast of smaller characters such as Katherine Helmond as Sam’s mother Ida all have some time to shine and add a lot to the odd world portrayed in Brazil.
Brazil has gained a reputation for being one of the strangest films ever and for being confusing, but I find neither of these descriptions to be the case. Admittedly it’s a bit strange but at it’s core it’s a love story set in Orwell’s 1984 future. It was probably stranger in 1985 but these days it’s pretty common fare. And having watched the 142 minute directors cut released by The Criterion Collection I didn’t find the film to be hard to follow at all. I found it witty, engaging, and to some extent, inspiring. In the face of adversity Gilliam ultimately made the film he wanted and it is a fine piece of art.
Brazil has nothing to do with the country of Brazil but everything to do with good filmmaking.