Toby Grisoni (Adam Driver) is trying to direct a movie about Don Quixote, a film he already made as a student project some ten years earlier. On a whim, he decides to break from the dispassionate process he has undertaken and visit the setting if his original film, in which he used villagers as cast members and during which he fell in love with a local girl. He is surprised to learn that the shoemaker he cast as Don Quixote (Jonathan Pryce) now believes he is Don Quixote. The two embark on an adventure of discovery.
What works best in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is Gilliams aesthetic and frenzied style. We travel around in time and between reality and fantasy, always with great fluidity. A myriad of techniques ensure that fantasy feels more alive than the sterile modern world. As a fantasy film, it’s one of the more visually distinctive. Unfortunately, there are problems.
The film’s comedy is fairly childish and perhaps dated. Laughs come from silly voices, guerning and the odd gross-out gag. The tired joke of a man dreaming of kissing a girl whilst actually kissing am animal is actually used. The more effective comedy of delusion versus reality
Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce have fully committed to their roles, it’s just that the roles are quite familiar. Driver is the put-upon American who serves as the straight man, his over the top reactions serving as a contrast to the fantasy around him. Pryce is the noble fool, who chastises Toby often, despite being often wrong. Their dynamic together is characterized by misunderstanding.
At the heart of this project is a parallel between the well-meaning but hopelessly misguided Don Quixote and Terry Gilliam himself. By making the main character a director, the link is even clearer. There is a narrative hear of the director removed from his passion, making film as merely a process.
Yet perhaps the most unfortunate thing about The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is that I don’t see what Gilliam actually wanted to say. Ultimately Toby discovers that he prefers romantic madness to sober sanity, but the decision is unmotivated. His love for the local girl is meant to be his main drive,
Ultimately, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is an imaginative, fun but unfocused experience. It carries the baggage of its various iterations and doesn’t quite feel like a cohesive whole. But it’s certainly an interesting ride care of one of the most unique visual talents of our age.