Terry Gilliam’s commitment to making a Don Quixote movie spans nearly 30 years, encompasses multiple disasters on set, and dozens of casting changes. Financing came and went, and still Gilliam persisted. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is the result of three decades of dedication to a basic idea, although the story itself changed and evolved over the years.
Adam Driver stars as Toby, an advertising director who takes a trip down a rabbit hole into the world of Javier the cobbler (an outstanding Jonathan Pryce) who’s under the impression he’s the actual Don Quixote. Javier had been cast to play the role in a student film 10 years prior and has transformed into a living and breathing Don Quixote, complete with tilting at windmills, ever since.
The slippery slope from reality to this particular delusion was made possible by Toby. 10 years ago he shot a student film and convinced Javier to play the part. Toby has since moved on, but Javier’s stuck in this twisted alternate reality in which he’s become the character. When Toby returns to the town to shoot a commercial featuring a different Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza, he takes inspiration in his old student film to get over difficulties in the shoot.
Toby reconnects with Javier, still in character, and Javier mistakenly believes Toby is his friend, Sancho. Together this unlikely duo face new adventures as Miguel de Cervantes’ characters sprung to life in modern day.
If you were able to completely understand every little nuance in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, then it wouldn’t be a Terry Gilliam film. Gilliam’s films can confound and frustrate, but they’re rarely boring or ordinary. His Don Quixote project is definitely not the latter. It’s weird, wild, and ultimately entertaining.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote could have used another round of editing to chip away some filler material, but the story is mesmerizing and driven by an outstanding performance by Adam Driver. Driver’s such a refreshing surprise among the current batch of actors in his age group. He’s proven himself fully capable of tackling a wide range of genres, and his deadpan delivery in Gilliam’s take on Don Quixote is pitch perfect. If there was ever a role that challenged Driver to just let loose and embrace the crazy, this is it. Driver nails Gilliam’s material, biting off the dialogue and dissolving into the lunacy with a perceptible glee.
Terry Gilliam’s resume as a director is a mix of brilliance (Brazil, Time Bandits, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and creative misfires (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Tideland, The Brothers Grimm). The Man Who Killed Don Quixote lies somewhere in the middle. Given the fact a Terry Gilliam Don Quixote project has been talked about for three decades, the end result is a bit of a letdown. But I do wonder if I didn’t know the backstory, if I wasn’t aware of all the fits and starts and had no inkling of Gilliam steadfastly clinging to a Don Quixote project for all these years, would I have viewed the finished film through different eyes? Maybe I expected too much given the number of years Gilliam had to prepare and sharpen the script.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is clever, confusing, and sure to delight Terry Gilliam fans. Adam Driver fans will also be entertained by the actor’s commitment to bringing this bizarre tale to life. There’s a specific audience out there ready to accept and appreciate The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but I think it’s also such a weird little film that it might just win over a new generation of Terry Gilliam admirers seeking relief from the ordinary.
Running Time: 132 minutes
Release Date: April 10, 2019 followed by an expanded release the week of April 15th
Directed By: Terry Gilliam
Written By: Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni
Presented By: Fathom Events and Screen Media Films