Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review: The Zero Theorem

Image courtesy of Amplify.
To give credit where it's due, director Terry Gilliam knows how to craft a memorable image. His films' fantastical stories often provide ample room for visual wizardry, quite often including several interesting things taking place within the space of a single shot. The director's resume includes the stunning "Brazil," the underrated "The Fisher King" and "12 Monkeys," a solid remake of Chris Marker's "La Jetee."

But in recent years, Gilliam's work has been scattershot, to say the least. "The Brothers Grimm" included some terrific imagery, but it was a missed opportunity. His "Tideland" was a career low and an absolute disaster, while "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" hardly registered.

His latest, "The Zero Theorem," can be commended for including the type of shots you'd typically expect in a Gilliam film, including a stunning closing image of a sunset, and some committed performances by its cast. But the picture is merely theoretical, bouncing around ideas in search of a fully realized concept and a clustered script that doesn't help to clarify exactly what the director is aiming for here.

Chrisoph Waltz plays Qohen, a computer genius working for a company called Mancom in a distant future and taking on the titular project that aims to find whether life has meaning by applying various mathematical formulas through his machinery.

The picture features a variety of supporting characters, including Matt Damon as Qohen's enigmatic boss, David Thewlis as a coworker who always forgets his name, Melanie Thierry as a call-girl and muse, Ben Whishaw and Peter Stormare as a pair of doctors, Tilda Swinton as a shrink and Lucas Hedges as a teenager who attempts to assist Qohen in his quest. But these characters come off as clutter, rather than adding anything to the overall theme, which is pretty murky.

And while the material is performed energetically, it often feels repetitive. One scene blends into the next and then the next. The frame is filled with colorful visuals, from Qohen's strangely decorated home and workspace to the the nightclub where he meets Thierry's character, but they serve as distractions to a narrative that is already all over the map.

Gilliam can be a brilliant director, but in recent years his visual style and the way he directs his actors to be as eccentric as possible has overshadowed the ideas at play in his movies. I believe the ingredients are there in most of his pictures, but his recent work feels as if it needs a bit more discipline. "The Zero Theorem" just didn't work for me. I'll hope that his next one will come together more smoothly.

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