Abrasive, dysfunctional, audacious, ridiculous, flawed, excessive…all these words can be (and have been) used to describe Brazil (1985) . Yet, instead of turning into the 80’s version of Waterworld (i.e. overbearing and empty), Brazil works. It REALLY works. No doubt one of the best sci fi movies ever produced, and definitely one of the top ten movies of the 1980’s.

Directed by the creative Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys), Brazil is like George Orwell’s 1984 meets the nonsensical nature of Dr. Strangelove. At heart, Brazil is a satire. Black comedy and tongue-in-cheek are abound, setting up a not-so-serious tone in an otherwise bleak and inhospitable world. Its true, this movie is long, pointless at times, self-indulgent, and utterly ridiculous. But when you take each of the brilliantly constructed scenes separately, Brazil is outstanding. This is one of the few movies I can say that the individual parts are better than the whole, and maybe that’s part of the satire. Every little detail means something, but put it all together and you have…well nothing really.

Synopsis: Sam Lowry is a middle-aged man with a mind-less government job in a society overrun by complicated and often useless technology. The government is called “Central Services” and controls just about every aspect of life. As a result, there is civil unrest and terrorists routinely wreck havoc on society (or, is it the government creating fear?….). Sam’s strongest aspirations are shown in his dreams when he is free and falls in love with a beautiful girl. Holding him back is everyone around him. His boss, Mr. Kurtzmann is incompetent, and relies on Sam for everything. His mother meanwhile, is a aristocratic socialite with connections, and is determined to see Sam become something important, so much, in fact, that she manages to get him a promotion that he never really wanted to begin with. Also, there is Sam’s longtime friend Jack Lint, who has a high-ranking job himself, and encourages Sam with peer pressure to change his life so it is more like his own.

The meat of the story begins when a simple (and ridiculous) computer error causes the government to wrongfully arrest a man (Mr. Buttle) for no reason at all. Due to the unwieldy size and bureaucratic nature of the government, nothing can be done for Mr. Buttle or his family before it is too late (“Confess! If you hold out too long, it could affect your credit rating.”). A concerned neighbor, Jill Layton, does her best to help, but is thwarted by the government’s incompetence. When the act of fixing this problem lands on Sam’s lap, his investigations lead him to Jill, who he recognizes as the girl from his dreams (well…not exactly). He becomes infatuated with finding her, and as a result decides to take his promotion in order to gain access to information that will aid him in his quest. The remainder of the film involves Sam’s struggles to be with her, and the constant impedance the government provides making his dream more difficult to obtain, and ultimately causing Sam to lose all hope in the system and instead fight against it.

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Acting: Jonathan Price (Tomorrow Never Dies) does a wonderful job as Sam. He does well, especially when considering the often contrasting abstract/comedic and down-to-earth-emotional aspects of the movie. He is sincere and believable throughout, without playing into some of the cartoon-like spectacles in this movie. Katherine Helmond (Overboard) plays Sam’s selfish and overbearing mother. Her performance is strong enough that the audience gets a clear picture of this mother-son relationship with hardly any back story. Kim Griest (Throw Momma From the Train) plays Jill, and seems like the weakest actor here, although I’ll give her credit for playing a character that is supposed to be both tough and feminine. Finally, there are several minor characters who appear from time to time in the movie. Overall, they all do a great job playing believable two-sided people, even if some of their performances verge on the absurd. Ian Holm (Alien) plays Mr. Kurtzman, and his small stature and bumbling nature make his characters’ incompetence all the more believable. Michael Palin (TV’s Staurday Night Live) plays Jack and Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Rodger Rabbit?) plays Spoor, a Central Service worker. By far the greatest performance, and probably one that defines the movie, is a cameo by a well known actor. I won’t give anything away here, but it is worth seeing the movie for alone. (24/25)

Script/Plot: As you’re probably aware now, this is a long movie. And, unfortunately, it feels like it. The plot can be hard to follow at times, especially at the triple-whammy ending. But really this isn’t meant to be a simple movie, in fact it is quite the opposite. Everything is perplexing and bizarre; but the important thing is that it makes you think, and it is entertaining. As such, I personally think the script/plot is amazing. It really is one of the most original and creative stories out there on the movie screen, and that’s what matters. Therefore, if you like to be grounded in reality and your movies to make perfect sense than you should look elsewhere. (21/25)

Direction: Gilliam’s direction is particularly strong here. Each segment of the movie seems to have its own tone and feel. Each individual scene is crafted like a short film, and the beginning and ending segments are especially strong, making use of techniques used by Welles and Kubrick. All the camera work is tight and constrained, which helps to enhance the scenery and effects of the movie without making anything seem fake or forced. Gilliam creates the perfect retro-futuristic movie. It is indeed the future, but the machinery and technology seems to be from the 50’s. This both enhances some of the themes in the movie as well as makes it one of the most visually creative movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve included some additional photos at the end so you can see yourself. (25/25)

Special Effects/Music/X-Factor: Like I said above, the special effects are outstanding. I would recommend watching this one on remastered DVD (or Blue Ray if it is available?). Only in a few of the larger-set shots does the movie lose some of its shine. The music is outstanding as well. Brazil borrows its name from the 1939 song Aquarela do Brasil, and the song creates an important retro feel. This type of ingenious (i.e. thinking outside of the box) creativity is the film’s x-factor. (25/25)

The Verdict:

What Kept Me Watching: The creativity blows you away. Great visuals, great sounds, and great characters. The meaning behind the meaningless makes you think, and keeps it interesting.

What Kills It: The story is long, pointless at times, and the plot gets lost by the end.

Summary: A meaningful and well orchestrated spectacle that you can’t afford to miss.

Final Rating: (95/100) A