It is almost embarrassing to admit, but up until two weeks ago, I had never seen Terry Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil. Sure, I had read about it, knew about it, even rented it once, but I had never actually watched it. And with films like that—the ones that inevitably cause people to exclaim, "Oh my god, I can't believe you've never seen that movie!"—sometimes it just makes you not want to watch it. But when I found out that Criterion was re-releasing Brazil, both as a single disc and in an impressive three-disc version, I figured now was as good a time as any.
Set in a totalitarian society that champions conformity and complacency over individual thought, Brazil is a film of such brilliant craftwork and innovative vision that as I sat and watched it for the first time, I found myself thinking, "Oh my god, I can't believe I've never seen this movie!"
Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a low-end bureaucratic cog in a vast, soul-draining machine. When Sam discovers an error that has resulted in the death of a man charged with something he didn't do, he sets out to correct the mistake, only to discover that the system he is a part of doesn't make mistakes, let alone admit to them, and that trying to correct them is tantamount to treason. Soon, Sam finds himself an enemy of the state, and in league with terrorists bent on toppling the system.
For a visually stylish director like Gilliam, who rose to fame as part of Monty Python and went on to make films like 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King and Time Bandits, Brazil represents his greatest achievement as a filmmaker. At least the fully restored, 142-minute version that appears on this release represents his greatest achievement. By comparison, the heavily edited 94-minute version that showed in theaters (available only on the three-disc collection) is an examination of the shortsighted vision of Hollywood studios and the evisceration of creative talent.
Brazil is an amazing film that, after two decades, is as relevant today as when it was released. The film's vision of an oppressive society ruled by a government that systematically usurps individual thought and freedom is equally profound and comedic in its ability to see where this country is headed. Buying the single-disc version is enough to keep you entertained (as it does have a great commentary track by Gilliam), but by the time you're done you'll want to see all the supplementary material found on the three-disc version.