Review: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (TIFF)
PLOT: Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is an immortal soothsayer, who travels through London with his traveling carnival, featuring his diminutive assistant Percy (Verne Troyer), his beautiful, mortal daughter- Valentina (Lily Cole), and her would-be suitor, Anton (Andrew Garfield). One night, after a disastrous performance, Valentina, and Anton spot a man hanging from London Bridge who they manage to rescue. The man turns out to be Tony (Heath Ledger), a mysterious, smooth talking ladies man, who is somehow connected to the Devil, in the guise of Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) with whom Parnassus has a deal allowing him to claim Valentina's soul the day she turns sixteen, which is only three days away.
REVIEW: By now, all of you know the story behind THE IMAGINIARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS. Star Heath Ledger died midway through shooting, and director Terry Gilliam managed to come up with a plot device where his character, Tony, changes forms throughout the film- allowing them to finish the movie. The end result is effective, and occasionally inspired, but, to me anyways, something of a disappointment, as one can't help but wonder what Ledger would have done with the role had he lived. Ledger truly was at the height of his ability when he died, and there's enough of his performance intact to suggest that had he been able to complete the film, this would have been another triumph. Alas, it was not to be, and we lost an actor who was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest of our generation.
Ledger's performance is pretty much confined to the first part of the film, and after the one hour mark he essentially disappears. Luckily, Gilliam did come up with a clever and logical way to replace him. Whenever Tony steps into the Imaginarium (a portal into Dr. Parnassus' mind, where your imagination comes to life) he becomes another actor- meant to represent different aspects of his personality, as seen by the people who enter the Imaginarium with him. When he enters with a love-struck carnival-goer, he becomes Johnny Depp, the slick ladies man. When he enters with Garfield's character who distrusts him, he becomes a devious businessman- played by Jude Law. Finally, he enters with Cole, who, in a clever touch, has a crush on Colin Farrell, so he becomes Farrell.
It has to be said, all three actors are fantastic, and it truly does feel like what they are doing is a tribute to Ledger (Gilliam even gives him a "film by" credit, which is a classy move). My problem is that I think Tony was supposed to be a far more substantial character then he ended up being, as his character arc seems to build steadily, and then deflate in a hasty conclusion.
However, I hate to criticize IMAGINARIUM due to my problems with this aspect of the film, as I truly feel this is the one time where it's shortcomings regarding that character truly is no one's fault. Ledger simply died too early in the process, and they all did the best they could to finish the film. In the end, it is a very good film, full of wonderful imagery reminiscent of Gilliam's work with Python. We also get a great performance from Christopher Plummer, which I think is award worthy, and an amazing turn from the one and only Tom Waits, as a surprisingly likable Devil- which, I must say, is perfect casting. I also thought the final few minutes of the film, after the Tony character is wrapped up, were beautiful, and the final scene actually left a bit of a lump in my throat, and a tear in my eye.
Overall, I think it's the best movie Gilliam, and co., were able to make given the circumstances, and it's a true tragedy that Ledger passed on during filming, as this proves once and again how he really was the real deal, and we all lost a great talent.
Other reviews from TIFF: MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS - UP IN THE AIR - JENNIFER'S BODY - THE INVENTION OF LYING - DAYBREAKERS - YOUTH IN REVOLT - THE BOYS ARE BACK - THE ROAD - THE INFORMANT!- BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - A SERIOUS MAN- LEAVES OF GRASS- SOLITARY MAN