[Now Experiencing] [Film]
This is another re-watching of an old favourite; I think this was my third viewing of 12 Monkeys, but it was my girlfriend's first. I've been trying to get her to watch it for ages but she'd been holding off because she'd heard it was "too depressing". Hopefully she has now been cured of this madness.
For those not aware, 12 Monkeys is a time travel story. In 1997, Earth is struck overnight by a devastating plague which kills 5 billion people. The survivors flee underground; their only clues to the source of the disaster are graffiti left by the mysterious Army of the Twelve Monkeys, bearing the legend, "We Did It". James Cole (Bruce Willis: Die Hard, The Sixth Sense) is a recidivist criminal in this post-apocalyptic world. Because of his photographic memory, he is selected to undergo an experimental procedure to travel back to 1996 to find the source of the plague to help the scientists of his time find a cure.
Unfortunately, the procedure does not go according to plan, and instead of reaching 1996 he passes through a series of incorrect eras, including Philadelphia in 1990 and France in World War I. Along the way he meets psychiatric patient Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt: Seven, Fight Club) and psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe: The Last of the Mohicans, Bad Girls).
While the movie does not manage to avoid the obligatory time travel paradox, it does pull it off well. More importantly, though, the film finds depth by exploring the reactions of Willis and Stowe to the upcoming apocalypse - faced with the immutability of time, how do they deal with the oncoming unavertable tragedy?
This is easily Madeleine Stowe's best performance (although that's not hard). It's also the first glimmers of the "serious actor" that Bruce Willis was about to become with films such as The Sixth Sense, and it's Brad Pitt at the height of his career during the period that produced Interview With The Vampire, Seven, and Fight Club, delivering a beautifully realised performance as the jittery manic Goines. (IMDB cites a story that director Terry Gilliam induced this performance by depriving Pitt of cigarrettes for the duration of filming.)
Speaking of Terry Gilliam, you always have to be a little on guard approaching a Gilliam film. On the one hand, he created the excellent Brazil and The Fisher King. On the other hand, his name is on the credits of The Brothers Grimm. Luckily 12 Monkeys is more like the first two than the latter. Gilliam excels in reinforcing Willis' disorientation and alienation in the world of the past by continually transforming familiar urban evironments into bewildering mazes of angles seen from bizarre perspectives. A manor estate becomes a series of disjointed rooms and looming spiralling staircases; an airport becomes at once claustrophobic and agoraphobic with high angle shots of jostling crowds and tight constrained close-ups of key figures. This is excellent and distinctive direction and largely is what elevates the movie from generic science-fiction into an engaging and compelling narrative.
Well worth your watching; the mid to late 90s were blessed with an embarassment of riches in quality science fiction and this easily stands among the most noteworthy.