What a troublesome filmmaker Terry Gilliam is: his vision is unique, yet the same feverish imagination that makes his movies so engrossing threatens constantly to mushroom out of control. With his reputation (deserved or not) as a runaway director, Gilliam has reached a point where the struggle to get each film made becomes a subtext more interesting than the film itself. That's certainly the case with this 2009 fantasy, about a traveling theater troupe whose proprietor (Christopher Plummer) is a thousand-year-old mystic locked in a deal with the devil. Heath Ledger, playing a mysterious stranger who joins the company, died in the middle of filming; rather than scuttle the project or recast the role, Gilliam turned the latter half of the movie into a journey through the looking glass in which Ledger's character is taken over by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. The behind-the-scenes tragedy gives Gilliam an easy excuse for the dull chaos that engulfs the story, but he might have generated it all on his own.
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