There is no other director who could have done what Terry Gilliam has with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (TMWKDQ), a story that combines the surreal with the real in a fantasy adventure which sees Toby (Adam Driver), a director who loses touch with his creative spirit, sent on an adventure with Javier (Jonathan Pryce), a delusional shoe-cobbler-turned-actor that believes he is Don Quixote.
The lunacy that follows the two as they navigate rural Spain is one part an observation at opposites, the other, a literary-inspired adventure much in the vein of Gilliams’ Monty Python work. This is where TMWKDQ will cause some divisiveness based on your response to this style of zany humour (one instance, Toby knocks away the subtitles that sit at the bottom of the screen, noting they are no longer needed).
All the humour is drawn from the two leads as they struggle with one another; Toby’s grounded-realism having to attest with Javier and his chivalrous idealism. While TMWKDQ is in large parts a comedy, there remains an emotional backbone to the film that explores identity, one that sees all characters fleshed out and explored throughout the film.
The lead roles are executed with commitment, with Pryce undeniably the star of the show delivering an obnoxiously valiant soldier with intentions of heroism. Javier’s unwillingness to bend on his motivation for chivalry causes many of the complications throughout the film and results in Javier being the butt of jokes for most of the movie, particularly by those in power who ridicule his fight for change.
Toby stands in as Gilliam as a director reflecting on his career, with his return to Spain following the ten-year gap where he completed his first adaptation of Don Quixote. Donning a white suit and new-found confidence that leaves him unbothered by the failure of his current production of a commercial, Toby is a shill of the Hollywood machine with TMWKDQ following Toby’s journey back from a corporate pariah to a passionate filmmaker.
The balancing of the absurd with the drama culminates into a semi-serious fantastical odyssey whose third act is unafraid to increase the stakes in a film that otherwise embraces the ridiculous. A willingness from the film to explore Toby, a man who loses a sense of respect in himself and the manner which his exploitative actions have impacted a culture largely uninterrupted by western interference, is brave in its tackling of cultural appropriation.
If you fall into the camp that finds Gilliam’s mix of lunacy with the literal silly, then you and this reviewer are in good company. Despite well-written characters and a charming score, the constant need for Toby to wrangle in Javier grows tiresome throughout the films two hour run time and feels about as foolish as Don Quixote repeatedly attacking a giant windmill.
Dad jokes on overdrive, those willing to come along for the ride and are fans of Terry Gilliam’s farcical humour will see The Man Who Killed Don Quixote as an epic odyssey that exists as a testament to the persistence of the Monty Python director.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Adam Driver, Will Keen
Writer: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni