Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
The occasion for this watch was that my lovely wife was busy with some work chores, and I got to pick for our Thursday neighbour movie night. These occasions are always like me being in a candy store. I get a chance to validate ( or invalidate ) my cinematic taste by choosing to re-watch something on Lise’s He Says She Says list. Well, it suddenly struck me that my sweetie had given me the Criterion Blu of Brazil for a birthday present; Brazil was #1 on the He Says She Says List; Brazil it is!
Stanley Kubrick turned the source novel Red Alert on its head by turning it into a black comedy, so does Gilliam with his Orwellian influenced Brazil. In Strangelove, Kubrick highlighted the absurdity of nuclear conflict. Gilliam spotlights our unwitting surrender to technology and ideology that was, apparently, supposed to protect us much like nuclear warheads in Strangelove were supposed to protect us.
In Kubricks film, all of the characters are stereotypically absurd. We are an observer of the farce. In Brazil, the characters are unsettlingly familiar. We can relate to them; we walk among them. We’ve surrendered everything for security, and we live in fear of the protection we’ve accepted. We’ve bought into an idea of society that we didn’t have any part in creating. We keep a stiff upper lip and carry on. We dream, but we deny it.
The brilliance of the ensemble cast is matched the care for each role, another parallel with Strangelove. Even the tiniest of parts are fully formed; each a little cog that make up the Terry Gilliam’s dystopic world. Each representing a facet of what is so terribly wrong in the way of things in the most hilarious way. I’ve read that Gilliam wrote Sam Lowery specifically for Jonathan Price, and the match couldn’t be more perfect. Price’s wonderfully renders an everyman who is just trying to keep his head down and get along. There are those pesky dreams, though, and Price shows courage and vulnerability in perfect balanced in their pursuit. Palin, De Niro, Hoskins; all brilliant. Even the smallest roles by the lesser known thespians shine as brightly. My personal favourite is Gilliam regular Charles McKeown as Lyme, Lowery’s insecure yet boastful smarmy ‘desk mate’ at Information Retrieval. The only flat note was Kim Greist. She somehow seemed to be at a party she didn’t belong.
Gilliam gave equal care to the look of Brazil. Gilliam spent years constructing every aspect of this world. A litany of drawings that he’s show and tell to anyone who’d take the time to listen. When the right producing partner came along, there wasn’t the money to fully realize all of Gilliam’s dreams, but of those they could realize, they were enough. The visual equivalent of an onomatopoeia, the duct strangled world perfectly presents the bureaucratic and political allusions. Kudos to Production Designer Norman Garwood and Art Directors John Beard and Keith Pain. Roger Pratt’s cinematography doesn’t try to upstage the wonderfully realized world, but rather it sneaks around within it.
I sometimes fear re-watching a favourite film for fear it will be diminished; that I won’t love quite in the same way. No such fear with Brazil, or Dr. Strangelove; both are horrifyingly funny masterpieces that are more relevant today than when they were made.
Checking with my neighbour at the end of the show; Brazil has another fan.