The Arthurian legend of a maimed warrior healed by the innocence of “a perfect fool” is given a magical update by director Terry Gilliam, tripping the light fantastic in his highly individual manner in this fantasy drama.
Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is a hugely successful but venomous shock-jock radio phone-in host. A typically reckless remark over the airwaves about “wiping out yuppie scum” triggers a random massacre at a fashionable Manhattan bar and Lucas goes into an alcoholic decline, taking his career with him.
But a chance encounter with a mystical vagrant called Parry (Robin Williams) seems to offer him an opportunity for redemption.
Parry fancies himself and his fellow street people as chivalrous knights in pursuit of the Holy Grail. He thinks he’s spotted it in a magazine photo. It sits in the library of the Fifth Avenue mansion of billionaire Langdon Carmichael, played by the film’s production designer, Mel Bourne, who deserves accolades for transforming New York into Gilliam’s magic kingdom.
In truth, Parry the fool is a tragic figure, a former professor of medieval history who has escaped into a dream world rather than face the memory of his wife’s violent death. That horror is manifested as a flame-throwing red knight on horseback who looms up on Manhattan’s traffic-clogged streets to chase Parry.
Gilliam has an eerie knack of wringing visionary heart-tugging power from unsentimental if bizarre material, and Bridges’s mythical search for redemption in the enchanted kingdom of New York fits the bill exactly.
A magnificent perusal of what fires and feeds the soul, with super-tramp Robin Williams keeping his trademark zaniness in check until it really counts.
But it’s Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl’s electrifying portrayal of moral betrayal as Jack’s wildcat video-store owning girlfriend, Anne Napolitano, that you’ll remember long after the fade-out.
David Hyde Pierce
William Jay Marshall
John the bum
Homeless cabaret singer