The Fisher King

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges are on top form in this moving drama from Terry Gilliam

Film Review by Ian Schultz | 06 Jul 2017
Film title: The Fisher King
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Amanda Plummer, Mercedes Ruehl
Release date: 19 Jun
Certificate: PG

Terry Gilliam has always been an outsider: an American in Britain, and someone who frightens the film industry because of the scale of his imagination. After the brilliant but unsuccessful The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Gilliam had to save his Hollywood career, and took on a screenplay by Richard LaGravenese that had already been through Disney and James Cameron. Gilliam managed to make something magical from it.

Jeff Bridges plays a Howard Stern-esque shock jock, Jack, whose on-air comments prompt an unstable man to commit a massacre in New York. A few years later, Jack goes on a bender, during which he meets a homeless man, Parry (Robin Williams), whose mental state is linked to the massacre. To redeem himself, Jack tries to steal what Parry believes is the Holy Grail.

Gilliam is often accused of using fantastical imagery and detail in lieu of story cohesion, but it's an unfair criticism: his films always have a strong narrative, and The Fisher King is a prime example. Gilliam here was working from someone else's script for the first time, and seems to acclimatise well to LaGravenese's story without abandoning his singular style, and still manages to add flashes of imagination (including a beautiful waltz at Grand Central, which was Gilliam's addition).

Given the passing of Robin Williams in 2014, his appearance now carries a layer of sadness. Many have said his performance in The Fisher King was the closest to Williams the man. By casting Jeff Bridges as Jack, Gilliam made the audience care about a deeply unsympathetic character, and Mercedes Ruehl’s performance as Jack's long-suffering girlfriend Anne earned her an Oscar.


The restored 2K transfer boosts Gilliam’s vision, which was aided enormously by Roger Pratt’s cinematography. The disc’s highlight is a documentary detailing the strange odyssey of how The Fisher King made it to the screen, but it is rammed with riches, including a Gilliam audio commentary, deleted scenes, and Jeff Bridges’s on-set photographs. 

Released by Criterion Collection