Starring-Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt
Scott’s Review #804
Reviewed August 21, 2018
Bruce Willis stars in a 1995 science-fiction thriller named 12 Monkeys that is sure to confuse even the keenest of viewers. Containing a plot that is impossible to follow (at least with only one watch), the film is quite novel and filled with edge nonetheless. With this film Willis came into his own and proved to some naysayers that he is more versatile than a one-note action hero. He would even develop more as the years passed- think Sixth Sense (1999).
If I may begin to summarize the complex plot, 12 Monkeys is a film about time-travel (confusing enough), that traverses from the year 2035, to the year 1990, to the year 1996, with a bevy of dreams or memories thrown in, but I am still not crystal clear on that. The time periods involved threw me for a loop and I was not able to comprehend where things shifted to……or was part of it a memory possessed by Willis’s character as a little boy?
Nonetheless, in 2035 James Cole (Willis) is a prisoner who is selected by “the powers that be” to go back in time in order to find a cure for a deadly virus that has wiped out a large part of the world. He is transported to the year 1990 instead of 1996 and lands in a psychiatric hospital, where he meets fanatical Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) appears in both the 1990 and 1996 stories as a respected psychiatrist and author. Both she and Goines become central to the main plot and story twists and turns as events move along.
The intention to make Willis and Stowe a romantic couple did not seem to quite work at first, but their chemistry grew on me. The duo never received a “happily ever after” finale as they deserved nor was their troubled romance ever fully realized to say nothing of consummated. The flirtation and bond they shared felt more like a tease than anything else, or rather, having two Hollywood heavyweights forge some sort of romance. Regardless, “romance” did not seem the point of this film.
Brad Pitt was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar award for the film. While he provides a quirky, showy style role (actually multiple roles or personalities), complete with tics resembling a Tourette syndrome patient, the role is not one of his best. At this time (1995), Pitt was a rising star and the recognition helped him tremendously. But he seems slightly to over act and make the character too over-the-top. I much preferred his more subdued work in Seven (released the same year), or future roles in Babel (2006) and Moneyball (2011).
Appealing in parts are the frequent exterior shots of the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore, where the film is set. Treats include the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Pennsylvania Convention Center, and Eastern State Penitentiary filming locations as well as numerous highway and bridge shots, which adds tons of authenticity.
A major score for the film, and for Alfred Hitchcock fans everywhere, is the incorporation of classic film clips, specifically the mysterious Vertigo (1958) into the story. As Kathryn and James camp out in a rustic movie theater and disguise themselves as different people, they watch a marathon of Hitchcock films (as evidenced by the many titles on the marquee). Clever is that the characters of James and Kathryn begin to mirror the actions of Vertigo characters Scottie and Judy. Blondes anyone?
12 Monkeys (1995) does sort of come together at the conclusion of the film as the dreams/memories are laid out pretty clearly. As we have witnessed these sequences throughout, it leads to a semi-satisfying conclusion. A bit of a beautiful mess, the film has clever tidbits and is well-acted, and the baring of both Willis’s and Pitt’s butts might get some additional viewers. I think I need to watch the film again to perhaps understand and connect all of the dots better.