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The Zero Theorem

Mad and scattered though it may be, The Zero Theorem feels like business as usual for Terry Gilliam. If you've seen what the visionary filmmaker can do with emotional chaos, fantastical concepts, and corporate dystopias in the Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, and Brazils of cinema past, then you'll find this latest venture to be less a new exploration of Gilliam's yet untapped imaginings and more a 'Best Of' reel honoring his greatest cinematic elements to date. In short, while amply pleasant, Zero Theorem is nothing new for the director.

That Gilliam's adherence to the visual penmanship that has carried with him for decades has become "pleasant" - perish the thought: comfortable - might be its biggest fault. The dynamic "new"-ness of the aesthetic and rhythm in his early features is what made it so compelling a style. Showing little evolution in Zero Theorem, and perhaps even the hint - via a few cloyingly unoriginal sci-fi constructs, like a personalized video advertisement that follows Christoph Waltz down the street - that Gilliam has fallen behind the times in his sociopolitical commentary.

It's a horrifying notion that Zero Theorem might be an act of regression for Gilliam (even after a decade of critical maligned work), and one that reverberates as we feel Waltz's turn as a gifted recluse awaiting tell of the meaning of life amount to little more than cuteness. Alongside him are players equally limited by the fluffy nature of the piece: Melanie Thierry as a batty woman who takes a liking to Waltz's Qohen, David Thewlis as his troublesome and inept supervisor, Lucas Hedges as a technical prodigy and petulant teen in whom Qohen finds an unwanted sidekick… oh, and a white-haired Matt Damon as "The Management." Just as the members of Zero Theorem's Orwellian society are accused of being, each of the film's players amounts more or less to a tool, a cog in a competent but hardly challenging machine.

The script is no more or less inspiring, just another vehicle to get Gilliam's wildfire set piece construction and gallant metaphysical ideology running again. It's all lovely, funny, and an entirely nice way to spend two hours. But it's hardly the sort of work the director was once assured to deliver.