Friday, May 02, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Fisher King (1991) ****

R, 137 min.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Reuhl, Amanda Plummer, Michael Jeter, David Hyde Pierce

“The Fisher King” contains one of the single most astounding bits of acting I’ve seen. It isn’t performed by the Oscar-nominated Robin Williams for his role. No, this piece of acting is provided by the equally talented, but overlooked for this performance, Jeff Bridges, who plays the actual lead of the film. Yes, Bridges, as Hollywood royalty, has had the industry’s heart for quite a while and has gained more nominations than Williams and was finally honored by the Academy with his award winning role as a country singer in “Crazy Heart” in 2010, but at the time it was Williams who was the bigger name despite the fact that Bridges carries the story. What Bridges pulls off in the first five minutes of this film, however, is nothing short of remarkable for any actor.

Bridges plays a radio shock jock along the lines of Howard Stern. His success is based on his ability to berate and degrade people, although he sees himself as a man of the people. One man calls in to explain how he’s in love with this woman and when the jock learns that the woman is upper crust he convinces the man she’s not worth it because she’s “above” him and that all of her kind deserve some sort of punishment. Later that evening the man shows up at a posh eatery where this woman frequents and opens fire with a shotgun.

Now, here’s that amazing moment. Bridges has spent the opening moments of the film making us hate him. As he’s watching the news report he drops all of his pretenses and gives the audience one of the most vulnerable moments any character has ever had on screen. His eye twitches and he says one word to express that his world has just been torn down foundation and all. And suddenly, the audience is with this asshole, on his side for the rest of the story. Every time I watch it I say to myself, “How did he do that?”

Now, the rest of the movie is a rather remarkable anomaly of unusual storytelling from a filmmaker who has made a career of that. “The Fisher King” is certainly Terry Gilliam’s most accessible movie for mainstream filmgoers, but it’s still pretty far out there as tales of redemption go. Mercedes Reuhl deservedly won an Oscar for her supporting role as Bridges’ post-massacre girlfriend. And the entire film was probably Gilliam’s most visible, finally allowing him a little creative leeway with budgets for his next couple of movies, “12 Monkeys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” before descending into obscurity with some failures. But, it’s that moment of Bridges that I always remember most from this film. 

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