Picks and Pans Review: Brazil

updated 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

Terry Gilliam's beleaguered masterpiece will finally clear a path to a theater near you this week. If you care about rebel movies, pay it some mind. There's a war going on. The combatants are director-writer Gilliam, the old Monty Python animator, and Universal Pictures, his reluctant American distributor. Last year, Universal president Sidney Sheinberg saw Brazil and pronounced it overlong, depressing and less suitable to the screen than to a shelf. That's when producer Arnon Milchan cannily arranged a screening for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which promptly voted the film 1985's best. Thus a major studio was shamed into releasing a picture that reflected its maker's peculiar vision. Sure, it's Sheinberg's money (Universal put up $9 million of the $15 million budget). But he had to know that Gilliam's previous films, Jabberwocky and Time Bandits, showed him to lack even a nodding acquaintance with the conventional. Why hire a bizarre imagination if you intend to squash it? Brazil, Gilliam's most daring, demented and demanding film, asks the same question. The resourceful hero, superbly played by stage actor Jonathan Pryce, is a bureaucrat who enjoys his dull job because it allows him time to fantasize about himself as the winged savior of a gorgeous blonde, Kim (C.H.U.D.) Griest, held captive by a giant samurai warrior. Brazil refers not to the country but to a romantic 1930s dance ditty; the film, set somewhere in England in the future, plays like 1984 as adapted by Jonathan Swift. (Gilliam wrote the wildly inventive script with Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown). Technology is still king, but everything is on the fritz. Computers that resemble primitive typewriters are capable of errors that kill. Investigating one such bungle, Pryce happens on the girl in his dreams. She is a tough-talking truck driver and has no interest in him. To get closer to her, he takes a promotion and enters a go-for-broke-and-blood world that doesn't allow for dreams. Gilliam paints this bleak universe with the most astonishing visuals since Metropolis. Terrorists swing across Art Deco towers like high-tech Tarzans; bombs reduce one part of an elegant restaurant to rubble while the unscathed diners merrily continue to munch. Gilliam also has gotten remarkable performances from a large cast; Robert De Niro and Bob Hoskins as duct repairmen, and Katherine Helmond as Pryce's plastic-surgery-mad mother, are particular standouts. But the undeniable power of the film is the way its images keep digging into your memory. Gilliam can take pride in delivering on his promise to Sheinberg and the public: He's given both their money's worth. (R)

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