You can't really talk about this movie without first referencing that, yes, this is Heath Ledger's last film. Post Joker, Ledger would have had the world at his feet so to speak, and he may well have been one of the greatest actors of his generation. And its a tragedy we can only consider that thought hypothetically. Parnassus doesn't come close to displacing Brokeback Mountain or The Dark Knight as Ledger's best legacy, he's a fun presence, but its not really his story nor is given the screen-time to be memorable. The film really is about Gilliam and in many ways its one of his Monty Python animation's come to life, raw sequences of imagination cut and pasted into film. With the detractions that this brings too.
With the fantasy sequences, you can feel Gilliam's heart in it and they are all put together with a childlike glee and as a series of vignettes their fine. But the film his close to no concern for its story. It came up with one, it just didn't pay it much mind. Similarly, the actors are pretty much left to their own devices, as they tend to be when Gilliam's on an imagination kick. He can tell character stories, even when he's in his mode of fantasy megalomania. But here he leaves the actors and their characters slightly out on the cold. Christopher Plummer is going to be good regardless, and he lends humor and a pensive side to his character that I'm fairly certain wasn't quite there in Gilliam's script. Lily Cole, despite being an aesthetically intriguing presence ( One of the most bizarre faces I've ever seen, in a good way) isn't much of an actress, at least not yet. Andrew Garfield pretty much steals the movie as a kind of artful dodger like magician, singer Tom Waits plays the Devil much more interestingly then Gilliam had any right to expect considering he dressed him up like Charlie Chaplin. The celebrity cameos come and go, although of the three of them I preferred Johnny Depp's bit the most, because the guy is legend. But this isn't an actors movie, its for lovers of cinematography and production design and admittedly it looks spectacular. But its flights of fancy are slight without selling the characters or the story, and Gilliam's attempts to sell the death of imagination don't quite land either. Kids still fantasize about crazy shit, its just maybe their inspiration doesn't come from fairy tales and folklore like Gilliam, instead coming from things like Watchmen, Lost and Halo. We're the multi-media generation and our imaginations take this into account. Maybe the loss of that school of thought is something to mourn, the harking to old style adventure and all that. But this isn't the movie to do it, given how it pretty much views coherency as a dirty word.
A six out of ten movie raised to seven because of the pretty pictures. Hey look it was better then I thought it would be in my last Gilliam post. Going to show its pays to be a pessimist