I must first begin by saying, I am not the best person to review this film. It's not my type of film. Just like, if you wanted someone to review the new Sex & The City Movie, you wouldn't ask Quentin Tarantino, it's just not his thing. But then, that's not my thing either. 'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus' is a film that will undoubtedly leave a bigger mark in filmic history than originally anticipated due to the unexpected death of Heath Ledger. The Director/Co-Writer, Terry Gilliam, found himself in what he describes as an 'unprecedented' position of having a leading actor dead with half of his scenes left to shoot. Due to what can only be described as a stroke of good fortune, or fate, the scenes that were left to be shot gave Gilliam a way of finishing the film and putting it together in a way that allows for the same character to be played by different actors. To go into detail about this would perhaps cross over into spoiler territory, so I'll leave it at that for now.
The most remarkable thing about the film is how full of ideas it is. The film is, by and large, about imagination-- and that's exactly what it has an abundance of. My thinking was, "how the hell did he think of this?" whereas my friend put it more interestingly when he asked me, "what do you think he was smoking?"
The problem for me is that a creative mind and ideas only go so far by themselves. When I wrote about Charlie Chaplin's 'Modern Times' recently I spoke of how amazed I was by how full of inspired ideas it was. There were hundreds of ideas that were executed, without doubt, by a genius. The same cannot be said about '..Imaginarium,' as sometimes you can't help but feel it's all a bit colourful and creative just for the sake of being different.
The performances in the film are magnificent from all. Lily Cole stands out in a role that Terry Gilliam freely admits was a risk. Aside from a small role in 'St Trinians,' the acting experience of the professional model was limited, and her taking on such a complex role could have backfired. It didn't.
Without question, the thing that fascinates people about this movie is how they dealt with finishing the film without their lead actor. As most of you will know; Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped up to the plate and finished what Heath Ledger started. Did they do a good job? I'll begin by saying that Law and Farrell did more than adequate jobs. There's no reason to get too excited about it -- they stepped in, and did okay. They didn't reach the level that Ledger had set, but they did the job.
Johnny Depp, on the other hand, is an interesting one. Let me first start by saying, I loved him in 'Donnie Brasco.' Aside from that though, for reasons I have no real excuse for, I don't know that much about his work. For reasons of fluke, coincidence, and other random excuses-- he's just not an actor that's particularly on my radar. Don't get me wrong, I've seen 'Pirates..' and a bunch of other stuff, but I don't have much to say about it or his acting. I've always assumed and ignorantly believed he's a cut above the rest but without ever really being a fan or knowing his work.
All that is a build up for me to say: I thought he was fantastic in this movie. He flew into the role of Tony with such ease and subtlety that it was remarkable to see. Depp was also hilarious in it. His scenes got big laughs from me. Laughs that were missing throughout the rest of the film. It could be coincidence, it could just be that the scenes he were in happened to be the funniest ones, but it seems more likely that Johnny Depp is just that much more brilliant than everyone else on screen. And I'm not knocking Heath Ledger, he puts in a strong performance and is entertaining and a joy to watch throughout, but Depp steals the show for me. As much as I'd have loved for Ledger to have bowed out with a work of definite genius in this film it's safe to say his defining role, quite rightly, is The Joker. That's his.
In summary; for all it's grand ideas and innovation, 'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus,' is a film that I rate as watchable and fun. It's not the greatest film in the world, but you could do a lot worse. Heath Ledger puts in a fine performance and there are definite hints of his undoubted talents, but he is more likely to be remembered for his masterful turn in 'The Dark Knight.'
The film will fascinate you, because of the context. Terry Gilliam and his team deserve major credit for pulling off the film when they would have been excused for calling the whole thing off. It's definitely worth a watch-- even if come the end, you do feel a little underwhelmed.