Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Premise: A cynical filmmaker (Adam Driver) encounters the cast from the student film that launched his career, an adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. His former leading man (Jonathan Pryce) now believes he is Don Quixote and the director is drawn into the actor’s madness.
What Works: Filmmaker Terry Gilliam has long attempted to mount an adaptation of Don Quixote but, in a series of events befitting the subject matter, he has been continually foiled by legal disputes and creative false starts which were catalogued in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha. Gilliam finally made his film and the result is a playful take on the themes of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel and a sardonic sendup of Hollywood. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a few degrees removed from a straight adaptation. Adam Driver plays a film director who made a name for himself with an edgy independent adaptation of the novel but who has since sold out and is now shooting a Don Quixote-themed commercial. Fleeing the demands of his producers and handlers, the director sojourns to the shooting location of his first feature and discovers several original cast members, including a former shoemaker who is now convinced that he really is the knight from La Mancha and that the director is his squire Sancho Panza. Circumstances fling the two men together and the director leads his former actor into the clutches of contemporary show business. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is smart and funny both as a film in itself and in the way it relates to other versions of its core story. There have been many adaptations of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel and this film is a bit of a meta-text. If Don Quixote was about the fantasies we tell ourselves then The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is about how stories impact reality and how narratives shape us in the long term. The director hangs onto the memory of his student film and then witnesses the way it has impacted the people involved. Like his former leading man, the director is lost in an illusion of his own making. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is also a show business satire like Bowfinger and Tropic Thunder but in this case the story channels the madness of Don Quixote into a portrait of Hollywood. The glamour of show business is another illusion that people get lost in. This is a smart adaptation that shapes the text to fit a new take while remaining relevant to the original material.
What Doesn’t: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was directed by Terry Gilliam who is known for visually striking movies like Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s surprising to find Gilliam’s style more muted in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The subject matter befits Gilliam’s stylistic excesses and fans of his work might be disappointed by the restraint. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote suffers from an ending that tries to do a little too much. The story brings together the madness of Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver’s characters but the final push isn’t quite convincing. Driver’s character spends most of the film refuting the shoemaker’s delusions and he ultimately surrenders to them too suddenly. The ending of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote feels rushed. It needed a little more room to let the events fall into place and allow the characters to settle into their final positions.
DVD extras: Featurettes.
Bottom Line: Much like its central characters, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote loses its way in the end but there is a lot to admire about this film. It is a smart, funny, and unique take on a frequently adapted text and it’s as entertaining as it is thoughtful.
Episode: #757 (July 14, 2019)