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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

The Fisher King (1991)


Have to look out for them homeless. They can improv with the best of ‘em.

Shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is at the top of his game; rich, famous, loved by almost everyone, has a few possible TV-deals in the pipeline and does whatever he wants, because he, quite frankly, thinks he’s the man. However, after he incidentally spurs on a caller to commit a killing spree, Jack is absolutely shocked and retreats from the spotlight. Three years later, he isn’t doing so well and is spending most of his time drinking, working in some low-rent, rental video store (it’s the 90’s), and, occasionally, pleases his loving, yet annoyed girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl). That all changes when, late one night in a drunken stooper, Jack is almost killed by a bunch of punk kids who have nothing better to do than pick on homeless people. That is, until he’s saved by a lively, eccentric homeless man with a big imagination who goes by the name Parry (Robin Williams). Though Jack initially doesn’t want anything to do with Parry, he soon realizes that the two may be connected moreso than he could have ever originally imagined and Jack decides to stick with Parry and see if he can turn both of their lives around.

I must say one thing off the bat: This isn’t my first time seeing the Fisher King. It may be the first time seeing it and actually liking it, but overall, it’s maybe my second or third, and from what I can recollect, this movie and I don’t have the best relationship. However though, due to the recent tragic news of the passing of Robin Williams I decided, “What the heck?!? It’s on Netflix for Chrissakes!”

And while I’m not the least bit happy Williams is gone from our screens, as well as our lives, I am happy to see a film of his that reminds us all why he was such a lovable presence to watch in the first place.

"You don't know who I am? I'm the, aw, forget it, man!"

“You don’t know who I am? I’m the, aw, forget it, man!”

That said, Williams isn’t the only good thing here; he’s only one piece to a very large, very strange, and very manic puzzle. The one putting all of those pieces together? Director Terry Gilliam who, if you don’t know already, is a guy who has a rather strange style. Mostly all of his movies, in one way or another, take place in some sort of fantasy-world, however, it’s how he spins those stories to make them not only touch your everyday movie-goer, but even those who don’t really care for his fantasy films, or fantasy films as a whole in general.

That sad-sack person would normally be me, but somehow, that all changed here. Gilliam’s style didn’t bother me here, mostly due to the fact that I was happy to see him take an honest, down-to-Earth story about two people helping one another out, and only using the fantasy-sequences to express what it is that’s going on in one of those particular character’s minds. Therefore, they feel less showwy, as if Gilliam himself can’t wait to show you what a big, brave and creative mind he has in that big ol’ head of his, and more in-tune to what it is that this story is trying to get at here – which is how everybody blocks certain things out of their heads, just so that they can make more room for the happy, pleasing stuff that we don’t harp on as much as we should.

Sounds quite sappy and movie-of-the-week-ish, but taken in the context of this movie and the way Gilliam allows his character’s to speak for themselves, it feels as honest and as raw as any drama out there. Of course, this isn’t just a “drama” through and through; there are plenty of elements of comedy, fantasy, and a psychological thriller tricking on through and while it doesn’t always work, it’s at least a bold move on Gilliam’s part to at least try with it and come out on top, more times than not. Gilliam’s full of plenty of bold moves here, but where he really nails it is in just giving us a simple tale of two people trying to help one another out, and by doing so, helping those out around them as well.

Some Gilliam die-hards may consider this “too weak” or “ordinary”, even by his standards, but I feel like it’s the kind of movie he had to make, just to show us that yes, he has an ounce of humanity inside of his soul and yes, he does know what it’s like to just pay attention to his characters. Sure, the moments where we see mystical creatures roaming the streets of Manhattan may be a tad cool to look at, but they don’t add to much; what does add up to a whole lot are the characters and how we see each and everyone of them grow and continue to do so over the time we spend with them. Time which, mind you, is two-hours-and-20-minutes, yet, breezes by so quickly, you’ll hardly ever notice.

Jeff Bridges has been one of those actors who, it doesn’t seem to matter how many great movies a year he does, he just never gets the love, adoration and notice he wholeheartedly deserves. Sure, he won the Oscar for Crazy Heart some odd years back, but that isn’t anything compared to the kind of work he was putting in some, odd ten/twenty years before. And one of those great performances of his is here as Jack Lucas; a shock jock made in the same vein of Howard Stern, yet, has some level of a conscience that makes him worth being invested in. Because lord knows, if we didn’t at least feel like this Lucas guy had some level of sympathy located in the pit of his stomach, then there’d be no reason for us to really care about his character, his plight, or even what he aspires to do.

It would have just been watching a dick head, try not to be a dick head, even though we know whole well that he’s just that: A dick head.

The perfect date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

The perfect double-date, in the eyes of one Terry Gilliam.

And even if that is the case, Bridges plays him so well that we do begin to see little shades of who he really is start to come out and it’s hardly ever tacked-on or unbelievable. There’s a belief in the way Lucas really wants to help out those around him who deserve it the most, which makes it all the more sad to see what happens to him when he realizes that, sometimes, you just have to give up and let others do their own thing and live their own lives. You can go your whole entire existence, trying your near and dear hardest to make those around you feel better as good about themselves as you do about you, but in reality, not everybody wants that. Sometimes, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing and live their own lives, without having to swat a helping hand every second, of everyday.

Which is why, at first, Williams’ Parry seems a whole lot like a bunch of crap that a screenwriter would just cobble up together to make some of us love him automatically, but as time goes on and we start to see and understand more about Parry, who he is, who he was, and why he’s in the state that he’s in now, there’s a certain connection we build with this guy. He’s happy just being him and even though that does mean he constantly smells like garbage and having change thrown at him and his little coffee cup, he doesn’t care. He’s just a guy who wants to keep on living the life and being happy about all of it.

He’s the perfect character for Robin Williams to play and it’s no shock to anyone to find out that he’s great in the role. Say what you will about his whole, joke-a-second-act, when the man was on fire, there was nobody better. Here, as Parry, he gets a chance to not only be his own, manic-self, but even reveal more beneath the facade as well that, believe it or not, does resemble something of a human being. By now, we all know that Williams was capable of acting like a real person, and much less of a wacky and wild wildebeest who could never switch the “off” button, well, on, but to get a chance to see him juggle both aspects of his acting is a testament to the kind of performer he truly was.

And that’s not to discredit anybody else in this film; especially not the ladies of the cast. Amanda Plummer is suitably weird and quirky as the object of Parry’s affection, and Mercedes Ruehl absolutely deserved the Oscar she got for her work here as Anne, Jack’s no-nonsense, yet, incredibly lovely girlfriend – but it’s Williams and the show he’s able to give us that ends up striking the final note, making it the hardest and most felt one.

Exactly how he would have wanted it, too.

Consensus: Gilliam’s direction doesn’t always work, but when he’s paying attention to the cast and the humane story in the middle of the Fisher King, it’s an emotionally satisfying piece.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Go get 'em, tiger."

“Go get ‘em, tiger.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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9 responses to “The Fisher King (1991)

  1. ninvoid99 August 13, 2014 at 4:35 am

    This is one of the films of Terry Gilliam that I haven’t seen but now I’m going to see it as there’s more importance in light of Williams’ passing. Great review as usual.

  2. That Moment In August 13, 2014 at 4:47 am

    “I wish there was some way I could just pay the fine and go home.” One of my favorite movie quotes.
    This is also my favorite Terry Gilliam film.
    Nice review.

  3. mikeladano August 13, 2014 at 10:56 am

    My favourite Gilliam film as well. Also my second favourite Jeff Bridges. (No point for guessing my first favourite)

  4. Ms. Coolsville August 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I noticed a lot of people mentioned The Fisher King as one of their favorite Robin Williams movies, but I had no idea what it was about. Thanks for filling me in.

  5. Alex Withrow (@shiftingPersona) August 13, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Nice review here. I just rewatched this last night, and while I agree that Gilliam’s crazy direction doesn’t always suit the material, the performances are definitely enough to recommend this one.

  6. cindybruchman August 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    This was a great film; I’m glad you reviewed it. Perfect post. :)

  7. Pingback: The Fisher King (1991) | Tinseltown Times

  8. Mark Walker August 14, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Probably my favourite Robin Williams film, Dan. I think it’s a great little flick and both Bridges and Williams nail their characters.

  9. Courtney Young August 18, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    I actually watched this for the first time last weekend. What a devastatingly perfect performance by Williams. Great review, Dan.

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