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The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

TERRY Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus arrives with strong curiosity value by virtue of the fact it marks the final film of late Australian actor Heath Ledger.

But while it’s a hugely entertaining movie – and probably the director’s best for some years – it’ll probably be best appreciated by Gilliam’s own fanbase.

That said, the director deserves credit for persevering with a project that looked doomed on the wake of Ledger’s death and for making it as good as it is.

The completion of the film was, of course, achieved when Ledger’s friends Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law stepped in to complete his role. And much of the fascination – and subsequent enjoyment – stems from seeing how this has been achieved.

But there’s also plenty to take from the central story itself, which concerns an immortal travelling circus owner named Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and his ongoing battle of wits and wagers with the devil who granted him eternal life.

As the story picks up, Parnassus is just days away from having to hand over his daughter’s soul to the devil but is given one last opportunity to save her – if he can save five more souls as well.

Helping him are his beloved troupe and a mysterious stranger who was rescued from the hangman’s noose (played by Ledger). But just how trustworthy is Dr Parnassus’ latest recruit?

Gilliam’s film, while flawed and prone to the same excesses that bedevil so many of his films, is also hugely enjoyable. Plummer, as ever, excels and revels in a rare leading man outing, particularly when bickering with Tom Waits’ wily devil, and Ledger provides yet another sobering reminder of his talent as an actor.

Though less showy than his Oscar winning turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight it’s still a useful showcae of his range and undoubted charisma – made all the more provocative given the first shot we see him in (hanging from a bridge).

Depp, Farrell and Law are used imaginatively, too, appearing in several of Gilliam’s magically realised fantasy sequences (which embellish proceedings in the same way they did in classics such as The Fisher King and Brazil).

The film does run out of steam towards the end and doesn’t satisfactorily explain everything. But in the main this is an impressive achievement from Gilliam that not only pays tribute to the director’s own powers of perseverance, but also to the memory of the late Mr Ledger. It is definitely worth seeing.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1hr 50mins
UK DVD & Blu-Ray Release: March 29, 2010