Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell
Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
Release Date: January 8, 2010
PLOT: In London, a traveling show led by Dr. Parnassus (Plummer) has people getting to see their dreams, then a stranger (Ledger) joins and things start getting messy in the battle between light and dark forces.
WHO’S IT FOR? Those looking for one last Ledger performance will be flocking to this film. Otherwise it’s strictly for Gilliam lovers. How many of them are there out there?
EXPECTATIONS: Obviously this is Ledger’s last film. I was curious to see how Depp, Law and Farrell would be added to the mix to help replace him. Then there’s Gilliam, historically I’m not a fan, though I keep wanting to be.
Heath Ledger as Tony: It takes a while to figure out the purpose Tony actually serves to this story. Is he the main character? Is he charming? Manipulating? For a while it’s just uncomfortable. Not because Ledger does a bad job, but because the character simply seems out of place.
Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus: He’s a good go to old man right now. He’s a mess of a man who supposedly has lived a very long time. Plus, he’s a sloppy drunk. We have no clue where his powers come from, or what exactly they are.
Lily Cole as Valentina: Quite beautiful, and only playing someone who is turning 16 (She’s 21 in real life). Look, I know the age of consent is 16 in London, but that doesn’t help American audiences. It’s simply uncomfortable for someone that young to play a sexual character. It’s also painful that Dr. Parnassus almost tells her the big secret a couple of times, while we already know it.
Verne Troyer as Percy: I don’t think Troyer can act. It’s just him reading lines. This is really too bad, because it seems most of the comedy is supposed to come from him and his interactions with Plummer.
Rest of Cast: Depp has a small part, Law’s is a little bigger, and Farrell comes along for the ending. It’s a seamless transition from Ledger to any of these actors. Tom Wait steals the show as Mr. Nick, otherwise known as the devil. Though we never fully understand the game that is being played.
TALKING: Again, every scene with Percy is flat. The discussions between Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick seems to stop just when we’ll actually start to understand something. Plus, the dream world might look good, but knowing the purpose it serves is a tad confusing.
SIGHTS: Gilliam has always had a great imagination, and whether we understand it or not seems secondary to him. The look of the film is the highlight. The dream world has huge ladders, big shoes, and a mountain of a staircase. Sure, it doesn’t look as clean as Avatar, but that’s never the point with Gilliam films.
SOUNDS: There is some beautiful violin and orchestra from Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna who did the score to the film. It goes side by side with the look of the film just perfectly.
BEST SCENE: The very first time this old stage rolls out onto the street of London, and the performance begins I was truly excited to see where it would go from there.
ENDING: The purpose of Tony’s whistle finally makes sense which is a nice wrinkle. And it appears people can move on fairly easily from being in Dr. Parnassus’ life.
QUESTIONS: Why is Dr. Parnassus always battling the devil? What’s the point of the images on Tony’s forehead?
REWATCHABILITY: No. I don’t think seeing this again would shed new light on anything.
In a dream sequence, there is one moment where Tony (the Depp version) is showing a woman fallen icons who live on as young immortals like Princess Di. It’s impossible not to think of Ledger joining that group now. Ideally, Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight would have been his last performance. There’s nothing terribly wrong with his acting here, but once again Gilliam has made a movie probably only he can truly understand or find very interesting.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10