Saturday, November 7, 2009

REVIEW: Imaginarium: a plum role for Christopher, while Heath plumbs the depths


Christopher Plummer has laid claim to a posthumous Oscar with a standout performance in his final movie role, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but paradoxically, another actor by the same name may win the award instead. The movie, written and directed by Terry Gilliam, the former member of the British TV comedy troupe The Goodies, provides a fitting finale to the all too brief acting career of Plummer, who first gained attention in the title role of Mary Poppins (1964), opposite Julie Christie.

In this fantastical story, Plummer plays the thousand-year-old Doctor Parnassus, leader of a travelling show, who offers his customers an amazing thrill ride using a mystical mirror called an Imaginarium, with the help of a magician (John Garfield), and a wise-cracking dwarf (Danny De Vito).

Parnassus gained this mirror through a deal with the Devil (playing himself) who now comes to collect on the debt, by targeting the doctor's daughter, Valentina (Lily Allen). The travelling show is joined by a mysterious outsider named Tony, who pops in and out of parallel worlds during the course of the movie.

Which Plummer will win the Oscar?

The production faced some serious challenges about one-third of the way through, when Christopher Plummer died from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. Director Gilliam was forced to complete Plummer's remaining scenes using up to three other actors, all of them, apparently, also named Christopher Plummer. Amazingly, this worked, and it is very difficult to pick which Plummer performs in which scene. Their features, voices and mannerisms are all so alike you would be forgiven for assuming it is all the work of one actor. The Academy will have its work cut out deciding which one to award the Best Actor Oscar to.

In contrast, the performance of one of the other actors, Heath Ledger as the outsider Tony, is all over the place. Ledger appears to think he is acting in four different movies; his appearance, voice, and even his height, vary dramatically. I expect this performance, clearly a lowlight of his career, may threaten his chances at future roles.

4 stars out of 5

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