Lively and imaginative, this raucous adventure-drama recaptures the ramshackle futurism of director Terry Gilliam's 1985 masterpiece Brazil, throwing a lonely guy into a series of events that get increasingly surreal. And while we never lose interest, the plot seems to fall apart about halfway in, circling around itself and the pungent themes that ooze through every scene.
The central figure is Qohen (Waltz), a genius who feels like life has lost its meaning. He hates the corporate mentality at Mancom, where both his manager (Thewlis) and the computer system drive him nuts. Then after a chance encounter with the big boss (Damon), he's given a new assignment to work at home crunching numbers to prove the Zero Theorem. Everyone is vague about what this theorem is, but Qohen likes being away from the office. But now he's distracted by the seductive Bainsley (Thierry), who puts on a sexy nurse outfit and lures him into a virtual reality environment. He's also assigned 15-year-old computer nerd Bob (Hedges) to keep his system up and running. Or maybe everyone is spying on him.
The central theme is the search for meaning in life, which is echoed in Qohen's inability to feel, taste or properly experience anything. And the theorem itself turns out to be an attempt to prove conclusively that everything is meaningless. This allows Gilliam to deploy his vast imagination in every scene, with a flood of corporate and religious imagery, suggestive innuendo and topical gags about free will in a society that values making money at the expense of actually living. All of the actors grab on to these ideas, adding comical physicality and knowing humour to each scene.
Waltz is terrific at making the gloomy Qohen sympathetic and intriguing, while Thierry, Damon and Thewlis add layers of comical interest. As always, Swinton steals the show (as Qohen's online therapist). Meanwhile, Gilliam's cluttered, colourful design work sends our eyes darting all over each amazing set. So it's very frustrating when the story judders to a stop, then begins to feel repetitive. The ideas that spiral around are sometimes thrillingly astute, while the themes may resonate with us, provoking us to think about our own lives. But it's hard to care about what happens on-screen.
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Run time: 107 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 19th August 2014
Box Office USA: $0.3M
Distributed by: Amplify Releasing
Production compaines: Picture Perfect Corporation, Voltage Pictures, Zanuck Independent, Zephyr Films, MediaPro Pictures, Le Pacte, Wild Side Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Fresh: 55 Rotten: 50
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Terry Gilliam
Producer: Nicolas Chartier, Dean Zanuck
Screenwriter: Pat Rushin
Starring: Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth, David Thewlis as Joby, Mélanie Thierry as Bainsley, Lucas Hedges as Bob, Matt Damon as Management, Ben Whishaw as Doctor 3, Tilda Swinton as Dr. Shrink-Rom, Sanjeev Bhaskar as Doctor 1, Margarita Doyle as Mancom Computerised Lips, Rupert Friend as TV Presenter, Peter Stormare as Doctor 2
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