Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer and Mercedes Ruehl star in Terry Gilliam's must-see comic masterpiece. Williams is Parry, a homeless history professor who lives in a fantasy world full of castles, Red Knights and damsels in distress. Bridges co-stars as Jack, New York's no.1 shock DJ, whose off-hand arrogance triggers a tragedy which ruins his career. Penniless and without prospects, Jack finds himself plucked from disaster by the most improbable of saviours... Parry. And so the amazing story of the Fisher King unfolds - a modern quest for redemption and the Holy Grail, filled with humour, heartbreak and ravishing romance.
We shall not go to Camelot - it is a silly place...
- The Fisher King review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 3
Some people consider this film to be Terry Gilliam's masterpiece. Personally I think it's more than slightly overrated. Ordered by the studio in no uncertain terms to reign in his trademark visual excesses after "Baron Munchausen" was a costly flop, this is a much more human-centered drama, and in many ways that's a good thing. Although it's usually spoken of as a Robin Williams film, it's really a Jeff Bridges starring vehicle. Which is no bad thing. Bridges gets a lot more screen time than Williams, which is fair enough, because he gives a far better performance in what is really his story rather than that of Williams' "Parry" (short for Parsifal, though oddly the script never mentions this).
But the elephant in the room is always Robin Williams. There's Robin Williams the not at all bad serious actor, and then there's Robin Williams the zany, kooky, wacky manchild with his trademark winsome little smile whom you can't help but love. Well, I'm sorry, but some of us didn't love that side of his public persona one bit, and actually found it rather nauseating. Terry Gilliam obviously didn't have that particular problem, and he tries to find a middle ground where those two aspects of Williams gel. And it's to Gilliam's credit that he almost succeeds. Unfortunately he's up against an ego even bigger than his own, and he can't quite manage it. He's more successful in his treatment of mental illness, since "Parry" is not afflicted with schizophrenia or some other organic mental defect, but is merely suffering from a very specific trauma that can potentially be cured in an equally specific way. No such magical cure is offered for the life-destroying mental health problems afflicting the many other very sick people in this film, who for that reason are relegated almost entirely to the background. But there are times when the character of Parry tips over from a man who behaves erratically because he's mentally ill into Robin Williams doing stand-up, and suddenly the illusion is broken.
Jeff Bridges has the less showy rôle. Partly due to the non-cooperation of Howard Stern, his "shock jock" character spends almost no screen-time doing his show-biz job, and is basically just a man with some pretty severe lifestyle and self-esteem issues to deal with. But he rarely puts a foot wrong, unlike his co-star. The most perverse aspect of this film, especially when you consider who directed it (although he made exactly the same mistake with "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas"), is that, apart from his frequent hallucinations of a Red Knight embodying his trauma in what is eventually revealed to be a truly nightmarish way, Parry's fractured dream-world isn't depicted onscreen at all (even his "Grail Castle" is a real building which just happens to exist in New York), meaning that instead of Surreal visuals showing us what it's like to be mad, we get Robin Williams telling us all about it. And that leaves way too much room for him to go into standup mode.
So ultimately it's a very good Jeff Bridges film in which Robin Williams is on a sufficiently tight leash not to ruin it, though as Terry Gilliam movies go it's oddly atypical in visual terms, andt all the real comedy comes from supposed "straight man" Bridges and the supporting cast, not the overrated Williams. A quarter of a century later, Gilliam is still trying to make a not dissimilar "Don Quixote" movie. If this is the way he treated that kind of subject-matter when he was in his prime, maybe he shouldn't bother.