Coherent chaos abounds in this time-travel/virus thriller by the visionary Terry Gilliam. Bruce Willis is James Cole, a convict in the year 2035. In late 1996, a deadly virus wiped out most of the human race, forcing the few survivors to seal themselves underground as the virus mutated above. A team of scientists “volunteer” Cole and others to discover the source of the bug, apparently spread by a group called The Army of the Twelve Monkeys. By isolating the pure virus, they hypothesize, they should be able to create a cure. They transport Cole back in time to 1996. Unfortunately their system has a few kinks, and he ends up in an insane asylum in 1990, where he is diagnosed as a delusional schizophrenic who has made up his twisted reality of the future (which may or may not, in fact, be true). Cole is haunted by fragmentary images of the past, traumatized by his experience in the future, and longs for existence in the present. However, Cole struggles to do what he thinks is right, and begins to unravel both the tangled events of the past, present and future and his fragile grip on his sanity. In his struggle, he involves several others, including sympathetic psychologist Madeleine Stowe and fellow psychotic Brad Pitt. Gilliam submits layers upon layers of chaos and imagery, but there is an underlying method to this madness. His film is constructed in a meticulous manner that emphasizes the tangle of Cole’s psyche, yet when looked back upon, is stringently ordered and logical. Willis gives a great performance, showing the depths of Cole’s underlying struggle. Brad Pitt gleefully chews the scenery as his madman. Stowe complements Willis’ character very well, growing stronger over the movie’s course, whereas Cole grows weaker. Gilliam’s direction, while triumphant in many aspects, is also an acquired taste. The film is intelligently written, and deserves more than its guaranteed cult-film status.
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