In the year 2035 mankind has been forced to take refuge underground due to a virus outbreak in 1996 which wiped out most of the population and in doing so making animals the dominant force. But with scientists having created a crude form of time travel they want to send someone back to 1996 to collect information on the virus. The man sent back is James Cole (Bruce Willis - Color of Night) a convict who agrees to return to the past in return for a pardon. But time travel is unreliable and he is first sent back to 1990 and ends up in a mental hospital where he meets Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe - Blink) as well as patient Jeffrey (Brad Pitt - Legends of the Fall) whose father is prominent scientist Dr. Goines (Christopher Plummer). After returning back to 2035 Cole once more goes back to the past, first by accident to WWI and then to 1996 where he kidnaps Dr. Railly and forces her to help him find Goines who is suspected of causing the virus outbreak but claims it was Cole's idea in 1990.
I would imagine we all have them, movies which from a production perspective are the full package; great look, nice camera work, large characters, big performances as well as a story which is anything but routine but for some reason they fail to excite and grip you as much as others. That is how I am with Terry Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys" I can appreciate all the parts but for some reason this tale of madness and time travel never grips me and so appreciate is all I can do.
Gilliam certainly delivers an interesting vision of both the future and past with both having a grim aspect to them which might provide a connection to what is going on. He also builds on this with what seems like every shot is done on angle to make the whole thing off balance leading once again to the illusion of madness. Basically visually it is great and all this makes you begin to question what we are watching, is it a story of time travel or is the character of Cole insane and only thinks he has seen the future.
Of course when you talk time travel you also of course enter the world of paradox over whether we effect the present by revisiting the past or should that be future pasts. Thankfully whilst the time travel paradox is part of the story it isn't going to do your head in trying to make sense of it all. Part of the reason why is because Gilliam weaves humour through out the entire movie so that following a revelation or a twist we get something darkly funny or odd.
On the subject of odd there are the characters and each one be it the almost animalistic Cole to the educated Railly they are all well defined and a little odd. They are also all very well acted with everyone from Willis down to David Morse attempting to bring to life their characters. In some cases it feels a little over the top such as when Pitt gives us Goines the madman but it is still entertaining.
Yet as I said whilst all the parts are well made as a whole "Twelve Monkeys" doesn't do it for me and it is not through a lack of trying as I have watched it a few times in the hope at some point it would blow me away.
What this all boils down to is that "Twelve Monkeys" is a movie whose parts are all well made; it has a good look, interesting characters, big performances but for me those parts never come together to deliver a movie which grips me.