Score : 94/100
Watchable Minutes: 129/129
Trailer Comparison : Twelve Monkeys has a super 90’s trailer. It feels grimy and unrepresentative of the actual movie which I guess is a good thing. I would not recommend watching the trailer prior to the movie.
Movie or Film : This one is clearly a movie. There’s no behind the scenes message here. It’s a head scratcher that makes you second guess what you think is going on. I thoroughly enjoyed all the movie aspects.
- Run time : 2 hrs and 9 minutes
- Studio : Universal Pictures
- Director : Terry Gilliam
- Where to Watch : HBO Max
The year is 2035 – the last remnants of humanity have been relegated to living underground in order to escape the deadly virus that has decimated the population and ravaged the planet. A convict in the underground stronghold is sent back in time to track down and identify the origin point of the virus. Arriving in 1996, he begins his mission but is soon arrested and sent to a mental institution. After several encounters with a psychiatrist, he begins to question his own reality
I think Twelve Monkeys is absolutely fascinating. It’s pure 90s sci-fi and one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. On paper it sounds like an overly complex story, but it works in the run time allotted. I think if it was any longer, it would have been too much. This movie hit the sweet spot for complexity and run time. The most surprising thing about this movie is that the concept is so old hat. There have been a million other movies that deal with the concept of some event or virus wiping out humanity and the last remnants fighting for survival. It isn’t anything special in 1995 when this movie was released or when I watched it in 2020. The solution of time travel isn’t particularly special either, but the unusual application and effect of the time travel is what makes it work so well.
Usually when a character goes back in time, they have their objectives at the ready and can formulate a plan to accomplish them. Even if they are apprehended, the character can stand up to any interrogation by mental health professionals because they are so sure in their beliefs. Twelve Monkeys deviates from this norm by making Bruce Willis doubt his own reality and potentially give up on his mission. The back and forth travel to different points in the 90s to build a relationship with his psychiatrist, played by Madeleine Stowe, was an interesting plot device. I think it makes her eventual acceptance of Bruce Willis’s mission that much more believable because it didn’t just happen overnight.
To finish it off, the total subversion of expectations by making it so that Brad Pitt’s character wasn’t the origin of the disaster was perfect. While watching, I was in the same frame of mind as the characters and discovered the truth right alongside them. I was so sure I knew where the ending was going but I had the rug pulled out from under me, which made me enjoy it that much more. The story wasn’t trying to outsmart me and make me feel dumb, which is refreshing for any movie with a good twist. As far as twists go, this is one of the better ones I’ve seen but it’s a shame I can’t re-watch this movie and enjoy it as much the next time.
Speaking of Brad Pitt, his acting range is off the charts. I never would have guessed he was capable of something like this. I knew he had range from seeing him in Money Ball, Se7en, and Burn After Reading but I didn’t see this coming. He nails the mannerisms and his physical presence in his scenes makes you feel uncomfortable, like you should be looking over your shoulder. Bruce Willis plays his character well and I think he gets better and more believable as the movie goes on. Madeleine Stowe does a good job with her character as well. She’s confident in her beliefs at first, but when her character begins to see the truth, she understands the urgency and leans into it.
The directing and editing were just as solid as the acting. I didn’t notice any hard cuts that took me out of the viewing experience and there wasn’t any wasted time. Every scene filled a purpose and served to continue the story. Terry Gilliam isn’t someone I could name off the top of my head, but that’s ok. Not every movie needs to be made by an A-list cast and crew. I didn’t even know who he was until I looked at his filmography and saw how involved he was with Monty Python. It’s satisfying in a way to be able to say I know who he is outside of Monty Python.
Visually, this movie is disgusting. I hate how it looks and feels but I’m sure that’s intentional. I know this movie was shot in Detroit so I’m sure they didn’t have to do too much set dressing during production. Side note – the fact that it takes place in Baltimore and Philly is pleasing because as a Steelers fan, I despise both of those cities and this is how I picture them in my mind. Anyway, the angled and close up shots of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt during their more manic scenes made me feel uncomfortable. In contrast, I felt smartest when I was watching Madeleine Stowe’s character centrally framed and at a normal distance. The usage of these alternating camera angles to highlight the mental status of the characters was interesting and enjoyable. I don’t have a lot to share about the music, but I did find the theme around the mention of the Army of Twelve Monkeys to be amusing and unnerving.
Overall, this is a gem from the past that I regret having overlooked for so long. I remember passing it by on the Netflix instant queue when I was younger and that’s probably for the best honestly. I think if I watched it as a young teenager, I wouldn’t have understood what was going on and not been able to give it a pass on the visuals. Twelve Monkeys is now one of my new favorite movies and I would strongly recommend it to anybody with an interest in thrillers, sci-fi, or just plain weird movies.
If you like this, check out :
- Donnie Darko
- The Fifth Element