Every single bureaucrat and piece of technology in Terry Gilliam’s opus, “Brazil,” is, without exception, incompetent or broken. The whole disastrous narrative kicks off because of a clumsy record keeper. In the chaotically detailed world of the movie, nobody can do their job and nobody has the drive to do any better.
The especially unambitious records worker Sam Lowry (Jonathan Price, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”) is comfortable just where he is: working a dead-end job with no prospects. But when an inept record printer knocks a bug into the printer, changing a “T” to a “B” and effectively killing an innocent man, Lowry investigates the mishap and meets the dead man’s upstairs neighbor, Jill Layton (Kim Greist, “Zoe”). The only problem is that she might be a domestic terrorist.
Anyone familiar with Terry Gilliam’s style will be right at home here. “Brazil” is a tongue-in-cheek frenzy, with fisheye lenses and whip cuts dominating many scenes. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the frenetic energy, it’s just too much fun to ignore. And for all it’s whimsical humor, the movie can turn dark on a dime.
One of the benefits of good comedy is that it easily connects with the viewer. If someone makes you laugh, you’re more likely to want them around. “Brazil” is that person with a dystopian twist. It’s not until Sam or Jill are truly in danger that the viewer realizes how much he/she wants them to survive the madness.
At times, the world feels chaotic, but thanks to Gilliam and Tom Stoppard’s engaging styles and deft storytelling it rarely becomes overwhelming. In a world of CGI, it’s nice to look back at the analog masterpieces of the 80’s. “Brazil” earns its spot alongside Ridley Scott’s, “Blade Runner” and Fritz Lang’s, “Metropolis” as a masterwork of set design and special effects.
That being said, sometimes it feels like Gilliam relies on the elaborate world to tell the story more than the characters. This method would work if the world was the focus, but it’s not, the characters are, and their narrative is a simple point A to point B journey. Their relationship is one of the least interesting aspects of the flick.
But even so, the performances of Price, the magnetic Ian Holm (“The Sweet Hereafter”), Michael Palin (“Arthur Christmas”) and, in one of the best cameos of the 80’s, Robert De Niro (“Last Vegas”) elevate the thinner story. It’s a fun, and sometimes horrifying, ride thanks to the rich characters and even richer world. A dystopian society might look miserable on the surface, but Gilliam makes it one of the most entertaining rides of the 80’s.