Review for The Fisher King
‘The Fisher King’ was not the film I expected. Directed by Terry Gilliam, and with a title like that, I expected a typically Gilliam-esque fantasy. Although it is imbued with a scent of that (Robin Williams character is mentally unhinged), it’s actually an incredibly moving drama about a man’s journey to self-salvation and a voyage of inner discovery. It’s also a bloody good film and this feature-packed, top-notch release from Criterion must surely be the ultimate edition.
Shock Jock, Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is as cocky as hell when he takes to the air, telling his loser listeners exactly what he thinks of them, much to the amusement of his team of sniggering sycophants in the studio next door. But he gets a rude awakening on the eve of the biggest break of his career (transferring to national live television) when a regular takes his comments about be-ridding the city of Yuppies seriously, and goes into a bar with a shotgun and shoots a bunch of them.
Jack doesn’t get the new gig and quickly loses the old one, with his reputation in tatters and, thanks to drink and lack of income, moves out of Manhattan to the sleazy side of town where he shacks up with a brassy video-store owner with the patience of a saint and a heart of gold (Mercedes Ruehl) helping Jack through his darkest hours.
On a particularly low day, filled with hatred for himself and everyone around him, and fuelled from a day’s drinking, he makes his way to a dark and deserted riverside, strapping his feet in concrete and ready to make the final jump. But just before he does, two kids arrive and, when they see he’s just a bum, beat him up and our gas over him ready to set him on fire.
Before the match is struck, a ‘knight’ appears out of the darkness brandishing a ‘sword’. Along with a collection of equally bizarre friends, they set about saving Jack and giving the boys a hiding.
This ‘knight’ turns out to be Parry (Robin Williams playing at the very height of his powers), an ex-academic who has become unhinged as the result of his wife’s murder in the bar. Parry takes Jack to his basement abode, filled with the physical manifestations of his schizoid mind, including an alter to a Holy Grail which he believes is his mission to obtain.
Jack, moved by Parry’s kindness, his proclamation that ‘Jack is the one’ and the knowledge about his wife’s murder (for which Jack still feels responsible) takes Parry under his wing. He indulges his vision to obtain the Holy Grail (actually a sports trophy in the home of a Manhattan billionaire spotted in a magazine article) but also discovers that Parry is smitten with an ungainly, awkward office worker (Amanda Plummer) who he stalks during her lunch breaks.
Jack is convinced that a new relationship with the girl might help free Parry from the past and break him out of his current state. His instincts are close to correct though the path is anything but smooth. With his girlfriend, they award the girl a prize of a year’s worth of free movies and when she comes to the store to claim, Parry is on hand as a shop assistant. Before long, she agrees to go to a meal with Jack and his girl and Parry and things start to look promising.
It’s a film that defies genre and somehow manages to combine passion and drama with comedic extremes, barely pausing for breath between such extremes. It’s a roller-coaster of a film that will have you thinking about it for days after watching. Despite it hailing from 25 years ago, it remains as fresh as a daisy and as relevant today as it was then.
For Gilliam, the attraction was undoubtedly the opportunity to blur reality with fantasy. Some of the film’s most striking moments are where we see situations through the eyes of Parry – which often include vast horsemen charging through central park, invisible to all but himself.
The performances throughout are sublime with every role perfectly cast. Williams is just superb and it’s painful to watch him portray such a fractured and troubled individual with the knowledge that he too had his demons. Jeff Bridges is always great (Crazy Heart, True Grit) and he plays the role of Jack brilliantly – no mean feat as Jack’s personality changes again and again throughout the film.
The film looks fantastic too. New York never looked better with knights between its sea of yellow cabs and castles jutting between Manhattan skyscrapers, without ever looking unrealistic. The 1080p transfer (from a 2K master from original negs) is really excellent too – just as you would expect from a Criterion release.
And talking of Criterion releases, the other thing you inevitably get from the ‘film school in a box’ distributor is a whole bunch of contextual extras. That means another full evening’s viewing but a thoroughly enjoyable one as it strikes me as a film worthy of such analysis.
· Trailers - original trailers for The Fisher King.
· Deleted Scenes with optional audio commentaries from Gilliam
· The Tale of "The Fisher King" – Actually not one but two featurette documentaries that focus on the production of The Fisher King.
1. The Fool and the Wounded King
2. The Real and the Fantastical
· The Tale of The Red Knight – New to this release, a 25 minute interview piece with artists Keith Greco and Vincent Jefferds talk about how Parry’s Red Knight evolved and some of the challenges of realising it in the film.
· Jeff's Tale - Jeff Bridges took tons of photographs on set during production and in this new 12 minute feature, he talks us through these.
· Jeff and Jack – A 20 minute interview with Bridges recounting his work with acting coach Stephen Bridgewater who taught him how to be a shock jock, along with some shots of Bridges improvisation work in the rehearsal studio
· Robin's Tale - in this 20 minute 2006 interview, Williams discusses his experiences working on the film, including his reflections on Gilliam and Bridges.
· Audio Commentary – This really is the motherlode for anyone wanting to get deep into the technicalities of making the film. Gilliam is a natural at this stuff and there is never a dull moment. Worth the price of admission alone.
‘The Fisher King’ is a magnificent achievement and everyone should see it at least once. I can’t imagine a better release at this time. Highly recommended.