Today I saw The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, starring Heath Ledger and Lily Cole.
Christopher Plummer plays the Doctor, who runs a traveling show with his daughter Valentina (Cole) and a couple of male freaks. He's truly ancient and has made a deal with the devil in return for his immortality (meaning: the daughter goes to the darkness at age 16 unless he does something to reverse the arrangement).
Tony (Ledger) is a man who Valentina and her sidekicks save from a hanging noose (and yes, since this is the first scene we see Ledger in, in the last movie we'll ever see Ledger in, it's especially difficult to watch). He soon proves to be the most valuable member of the traveling show, earning them heaps of money and spicing things up (he joins it because it provides a good front for the people he's hiding from).
Though Ledger doesn't play the main character, his presence does wake the audience up every time he dances (sometimes literally) into the frame. Aside from the rescue scene where he first turns up, the first 45 minutes of this film had me yawning. Circuses have always creeped me out, and as a plot device I think a traveling show with built-in freaks is kind of a screenwriting cop-out.
But anyway, the rumors are true that once the characters enter the Imaginarium, the film does pick up, if only because we want desperately to jump through the screen and create our own version of paradise along with them. It's visually stunning, if you're the romantic, rolling green hills type.
The transition in the Imaginarium from Heath Ledger to Johnny Depp (the first of three actors to take over the part when Ledger died) is utterly flawless, and Depp having all those years in the Tim Burton School of Weirdness feels right at home in the role. He even looks like Heath. Not so flawless: Jude Law, who looks like Jude Law with bad eyeliner.
That leaves the final portion of the role to Colin Farrell, who really gets better and better every day. The man appears to be channeling Ledger here and his charisma and good looks only help seal the deal.
But aside from the cool visuals, the typically great performance from the late Ledger, and the competency of his understudies, Director Terry Gilliam has again led us into an incomplete world of his own making, which simply begs to be properly grounded.