Gilliam’s directorial career nearly came off the rails with Brazil, which sparked a furious battle with the studio, who subsequently embarked on an anti-marketing campaign that threatened to bury what turned out to be one of the more significant cinematic visions of the decade. The former Monty Python animator was on a roll after the success of Time Bandits and secured generous funding from Universal, only to see them chip away at his integrity and work and prevaricate over a release date.
You can understand their reservations, if never quite forgive them. Jonathan Pryce is Sam Lowry, a meek bureaucrat working for The Ministry, a paranoid and labyrinthine civil service that recalls Orwell’s inspiration for Big Brother, the wartime BBC. Pryce daydreams of donning wings and taking to the skies in an effort to escape his dull existence. When he has a chance meeting with a subversive freelance repairman (De Niro) and meets the woman who has appeared in his dreams (Greist), he decides to break out of The Ministry.
Brazil is a gloriously mad, brilliant film, and watched from the other side of the millennium, its malfunctioning technology, idiotic consumerism, state-sponsored feelgood double-think, and inexplicable violent terrorism are as prophetic as they are satirical. It’s as if Charles Chaplin directed 1984 after watching Barbarella.
There are also excellent special effects, a parade of grotesque supporting characters headed up by Katherine Helmond as Pryce’s mother who undergoes warped facelifts, and a sack of restless exuberant ideas.
In a nutshell: Wonderful. The script is hilarious, and increasingly pertinent, while the terrifying Orwellian future and the vivid dreams of the lovable Everyman Sam Lowry allow Gilliam to display the full scope of his visual genius.