The Fisher King

In this witty and pithy examination of modern New York living circa 1991, director Terry Gilliam posits the absolute necessity to abandon cynicism in order to believe in something and someone. Jeff Bridges is wonderfully arrogant and nasty as stretch-limo-riding radio shock-jock, Jack, who accidentally provokes a desperate caller into entering a restaurant and slaughtering its yuppie patrons. Jack bails on his life, climbing into a bottle of whiskey and a chasm of sarcasm, self-loathing, and self-pity. Parry (another wonderfully manic Robin Williams performance), still traumatized by having seen his beloved blown away in the massacre, has gotten out of a mental institution only to become a crazed homeless person. After a chance meeting, Jack is drawn by his guilt to help Parry on a quest to steal the Holy Grail in the hope of healing both their damaged souls.

Drunken and psychotic characters allow for plentiful colorful Gilliamesque fantasy, but Manhattan is also a character here in all its grunge and glory. A lot of images are purposely down and dingy, narrowly focused, and hazy when depicting the city’s underbelly. This can occasionally limit detail that is otherwise good throughout. There’s generally a restrained palette of grays, gray-blues, and deep blacks, but many rich blocks of red cheer the picture and daytime park scenes have wide ranges of greens.

In this highly immersive soundtrack “Hit the Road Jack” is terrific in 5.1, full, powerful, and room-filling, as is the ultra-bassy “I’ve Got the Power.” The varied collection of rock, jazz, and rousing classical score by George Fenton bursts forth from all sides, instruments well separated into each channel.

The director’s commentary brilliantly and amusingly analyzes the way he (and his team) tried to cinematically express the themes and tell the story. Eleven minutes of deleted scenes add a little but the optional commentary by Gilliam offers more. An hour-long documentary of interviews with him, cast, and crew deals in depth with production. Four more featurettes deal with design challenges, Bridges’ experiences illustrated by behind-the-scenes photographs he took on the shoot, Bridges videotaped attempts at being a real shock-jock, and Williams’ take on script and filming. Each is original, interesting, and entertaining, adding to a very rounded experience of a sweet and stimulating film.

Studio: The Criterion Collection, 1991
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 138 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl