← Back to Reviews
Well, it's coming up on the first anniversary of the creation of this thread. In order to commemorate my rather erratic contributions to this site, I have decided to review an old favourite I promised myself I'd get reacquainted with - and get reacquainted I did...

(Terry Gilliam, 1985)

It's been roughly four years (give or take a couple of weeks) since I stayed up late to watch Brazil for the first time on TV one balmy December night. I remember that much. There's a gap of at least two years between my last viewing and my second last (mainly as I've been busy soaking up other movies or living life). I was inspired to rewatch Brazil (for what I think must be the sixth time) because it's Christmas (and the film also takes place during Christmas) so I thought it a fitting way to spend Christmas Eve. Watching Brazil again reminds me just how easy it is to forget a brilliant classic sometimes.

Brazil takes place "somewhere in the 20th century", in a bizarre English dystopia that combines all the worst traits of society into a woefully ineffecient system built on bureaucracy, brutality and banality. The film's plot centres on Sam Lowry (Jonathon Pryce), a rather ordinary office worker who constantly dreams of being a knight of shining armour pursuing a mythical goddess (Kim Greist). Sam's uneventful life is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Jill, a belligerent truck driver who resembles the girl of his dreams. She in turn is trying to rectify one of the system's countless grave mistakes - a computer malfunction that leads to an arrest warrant being printed for an innocent man. Sam then proceeds to risk everything - his job, his home, his very life - in order to chase his dream woman.

On occasion, I tend to watch a film that gets so overwhelming that I find it a challenge to try and organise my thoughts and opinions on it into a coherent review. Brazil is such a film. I've seen a relatively small number of entries in Terry Gilliam's filmography, but even the weaker ones still showcase, if nothing else, Gilliam's distinct flair when it comes to visual extravaganzas. Brazil is a prime example - every possible facet of the film's look is realised perfectly. Brazil's look is at once bleak yet unbelievably weird. Gilliam manages to craft a reality that manages to surprise viewers with imagery that is at once so very incredibly surreal yet also horribly familiar (because the Brazil universe is hardly one you'd really want to live in). The most insignificant of props have their own unique "alternate reality" twist on them (such as making phone calls by inserting certain coloured plugs instead of pressing numbers). The attention to detail is incredibly meticulous, and it's all captured with amazing aptitude by cinematographer Roger Pratt, whose camerawork also deserves a mention for capturing the weird world of Brazil in a manner as equally bizarre yet familiar.If anything really stands out to anybody watching Brazil for the first time, it should be the mind-bending kaleidoscope of "art" that comprises Brazil's visuals.

Brazil isn't just an amazingly rich visual experience. The story is also surprisingly competent and well-written. Brazil is one of the best examples of blackly comic satire this side of Dr. Strangelove, and its myriad cast of characters, the actions they take and the world they inhabit are all serving as a superbly-done mockery of what I suppose could be described as Western civilization. Barely a scene goes by in Brazil where something doesn't go wrong, often at the fault of the Brazil universe's socio-political structure and the people within. Many characters act out of an incredibly misguided sense of right and wrong in order to benefit the system they are a part of (with the main exception being Robert De Niro's rogue heating engineer Tuttle, a criminal by the system's standards simply because he gets his job done properly and without filling out mountains of unnecessary paperwork). Wealth and social status are the motivation for several characters' actions. It's a strange and terrible world, yet Sam's optimism and strength of spirit allows him to endure all that the world throws at him in his pursuit of freedoms frowned upon and even punished by pig-headed government drones. The best thing about Brazil is that despite being 23 years old and being very retro sci-fi, it's still painfully relevant in this day and age. A government whose actions walk a fine line between gross incompetence and outright brutality, a society that places emphasis on one's looks and class over their personality or actions, a world where paranoia and disaster are encouraged and disregarded respectively...yeah. All too familiar.

I find Brazil to be quite simply brilliant, but I will acknowledge that it's not totally perfect. For all the praise I can heap on its script, the only part of it that doesn't ring completely true for me is the love story that develops between Sam and Jill. I can't really say too much without giving away the film, but I'll say that while in the context of the film it does appear to make some sort of sense (in a world where very little makes sense at all), for some reason it does seem a little forced by the writers. Outside of that, I really have no complaint with Brazil. It's a tick in every box - Gilliam has a very strong command of cinematic language, and he crafts a weird-as-they-come fairytale that does make a mockery out of the minutiae of the world at large (from civil service to plastic surgery) whilst crafting a strangely uplifting story of passion and hope that leads to one of the most jaw-dropping "happy endings" ever. Utterly brilliant filmmaking.