The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (PG)

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Review byMatthew Turner11/10/2009

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 122 mins

Terry Gilliam's latest film will delight and infuriate in equal measure; it's messy, rambling, patchy and occasionally annoying, but it's also visually stunning and superbly acted, with moments of magic that no other director could pull off.

What's it all about?
Billed as A Film by Heath Ledger and Friends, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Christopher Plummer as Parnassus, an immortal travelling showman who runs a ramshackle magic act, assisted by his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), assistant Anton (Andrew Garfield) and dwarf Percy (Verne Troyer). Parnassus' immortality is due to a deal he's made with the devil, Mr Nick (Tom Waits) and as Valentina nears her 16th birthday, Mr Nick reminds Parnassus that her soul will soon belong to him.

However, instead of collecting, Mr Nick offers Parnassus a race to collect five souls, using a magic mirror that transports whoever enters it into a world of their own imagining. Meanwhile, Parnassus and company rescue suicidal, scandal-plagued charity director Tony Shepherd (Heath Ledger), who feigns amnesia, joins their troupe and begins romancing Valentina. But what exactly is he hiding?

The Good
The device Gilliam uses to circumvent problems caused by Ledger's untimely death is so seamless and works so brilliantly that you'd almost think the film was written that way originally. Essentially, Jude Law, Johnny Depp (who's barely in it) and Colin Farrell each play Tony on successive trips through the mirror, with each separate performance revealing more of his concealed personality. Plummer is excellent and Ledger is fine in his final screen performance but the real revelations here are Cole (delightful, gorgeous) and Troyer, who shows he's capable of so much more than post-Mini-Me rubbish he's usually offered.

The film is visually stunning throughout, courtesy of Nicola Pecorini's gorgeous cinematography and some incredible set design work, particularly during the fantasy sequences.

The Bad
The main problem is that the over-ambitious plot is basically all over the place, whilst the Blair allegories (the name Tony is no coincidence) are layered on a bit thick and don't really work. It also drags considerably in places and the story is increasingly frustrating – why, for example, does Mr Nick keep offering get-out clauses?

Worth seeing?
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is sure to divide both audiences and critics alike, but Cole is terrific and there's enough Gilliam magic here to make it worth your while.

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Content updated: 24/08/2019 09:10

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