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THE FISHER KING

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer
Director:  Terry Gilliam
Audio:  Dolby Digital Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Theatrical Trailers
Length:  138 Minutes
Release Date:  February 16, 1999

Film ***1/2

The Fisher King marks a slightly different kind of movie than what we're used to seeing from director Terry Gilliam.  This was the first project of his where he was a director for hire, and had nothing to do with the writing of the film.  That being said, there are some decidedly Gilliam themes throughout the picture, including the struggle against circumstances beyond our control, and the fine lines between fantasy and reality, and how the perceptions of such help to define us.

Bridges plays Jack, a typical crude talk show deejay, the kind who manages to insult his audience and callers and somehow remain popular.  When one of his unbalanced callers ends up on a killing spree in a restaurant, Jack is devastated to the point of giving up his career, and pretty much becoming a drunken bum, incapable of coping or relating to those around him, including his longsuffering girlfriend (Ruehl, in an Oscar winning performance).

Three years after the event, Jack is pulled back (sort of) from the brink of suicide by an eccentric homeless man, Parry (Williams).  Parry is the epitome of those people we see on the street from time to time who talk to themselves, and seem to be constantly reacting to things invisible—you sometimes wonder if they're crazy, or if they really see something you don't.  Parry believes himself to be a knight in search of the Holy Grail.  He talks to little people, has visions of Red Knights, and is convinced Jack is the chosen one, the one who will retrieve the Grail from a luxurious, castle-like apartment on 5th avenue.

Parry is also secretly in love with a shy, timid wallflower (Plummer), and arranges his day so he can be there to see her come to and leave work, and her daily lunch break.  These are the highlights of his life.

Jack soon learns the truth about Parry—he was once a prominent history professor, who seemed to lose his mind after his beautiful wife died in—you guessed it, Jack's listener's shooting spree. Jack begins to feel not only responsible for Parry, but some how, logically or otherwise, convinced that his own redemption might be tied up in this man.  He therefore makes it his goal to bring Parry together with his dream girl.

Basically, what we have from Gilliam is a compelling, touching, and humorous character study in which people have to learn to cope with their demons, be they real or imagined.  The script is absolutely terrific, and the performances even more so, particularly the two leading men.  This may be Williams' finest work thus far, and the role not only gives him a chance to display his talents for both comic and dramatic acting, but provides Gilliam with a means to inject a little bit of the fantasy images we've come to expect from his films.

It's fair to call the film quirky or a little eccentric, but it would be unjust to dismiss it as only that.  There is real humanity shining forth from every frame of the movie, and the film never strays from the truth. It simply chooses fantastic and whimsical routes to arrive at it.

Video **1/2

Columbia Tri Star has been the champion from the beginning of strict anamorphic transfers, but even those, if done without care, can look shoddy. There is quite a bit of compression artifacts and grain noticeable, and this disc also features one of the most poorly placed layer switches I've yet seen.

Audio **

Sad to say, this is a rather substandard audio offering, only in surround, not in 5.1.

Features *

There are a few trailers, none of which are for The Fisher King!

Summary:

The Fisher King is a compelling, character driven comedy/drama/fantasy, one that dares to stray from the center line often without losing its sense of direction or purpose.  Anchored by two strong lead actors and Terry Gilliam’s unique, singular vision, it’s a movie that’s both entertaining and thoughtful.