A pact with the devil is not an entirely original premise, but one with so much promise and limitless possibilities that this film should have been a cakewalk for the imaginative Gilliam. Nevertheless, the film is squandered by a crawling pace and characters whose pontential is never quite realized. We never get to know them, despite Doctor Parnassus’ backstory being brought to us (for the most part) in gorgeous CGI. In fact, they never amount to much more than cardboard cut-out stereotypes: the dwarf, whose small stature leads to laughs, the awkward and inept young assisstant with a good heart, the pretty daughter whose soul is at stake and serves as a love-interest/entanglement that goes no where, an alcoholic and absent-minded doctor with powers, and last but not least the amnesiac stranger, whose mysterious nature furthers the plot without proper conclusion or explanation. I mean why continue to build up Tony as a savior or enemy when he was neither to begin with? How does this help our protagonists, or for that matter the storyline?
The movie plods on at such a grueling pace that about the time its ready to conclude there’s only about 20 minutes to do so. And that’s where it truly falls apart. All four go through the “looking mirror” in order to beat the devil, but bumbling apprentice screws up Tony’s redemption by exposing him for what he was (ie: a corrupt bussinessman). They chase after another for a bit until the apprentice dies, Dr. Parnassus’ is injured and Valentina, his daughter sacrifices herself…in order to save herself? Okay, that didn’t make sense but Dr. Parnassus, who was only “dead drunk” makes a third pact with the Devil (jeez…doesn’t this guy ever learn?) to kill Tony in exchange for Valentina, which he fulfills. And surprise surprise, the Devil doesn’t keep his promise…or does, I can’t tell, by freeing her somewhere unknown to the doctor.
In all honesty, the ending is pretty chaotic and confusing. Valentina’s motivations to sacrifice herself are unclear, and we never get a satisfactory reason as to why Tony was important at all. Unless, this was all planned by the devil beforehand, which would make sense, but would defeat the purpose of his wager.
Overall, it was an okay film, with some beautiful images, but the story was not enough to justify its creation, nor satisfy my imagination.
By the way, Tom Waits was an awesome Devil. He was sleazy, and slimy, and exceedingly charming, just the way I like them. And yes Heath Ledger was good too.