Twelve Monkeys was originally envisioned by Chris Marker for the film "La Jetee", but adapted by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples. Terry Gilliam picked up the project and directed it in 1993, resulting in a very unique film that did surprisingly well at the box office. With a budget of nearly $30 million, the film recovered nearly half of that on opening weekend and went on to gross $160 million worldwide.
The story begins in a desolate future, where a deadly virus has forced humans underground. We don't see much of civilization, we only see the local prison, where James Cole is a prisoner for an unknown reason. A group of scientists have discovered time travel and are now recruiting "volunteers" from the prison to travel back in time to prevent the release of the virus.
James is chosen as a volunteer and initially sent to the surface to collect specimens as a test. After his success, he is chosen to go back in time to find the army of the twelve monkeys and stop them from propagating the virus. Unfortunately, Cole is transported to the wrong year, and ends up getting thrown into a mental institution. He manages to escape with the help of Jeffrey Goines, a fellow patient, and kidnaps his psychologist, Kathryn Railly, in order to evade arrest.
At this time, Cole is absolutely convinced that what he knows is true and he really is on a mission to save the world. However, he is recalled to the future after leaving a message with the scientists and is sent back, this time to 1995, several years after his previous trip. He again finds his old psychologist, but this time he begins to believe that he really is insane. He grapples with himself to try to find the truth and meaning in his life.
James Cole is played by Bruce Willis in one of his most serious and dramatic roles. His psychologist is played by Madeleine Stowe, also in one of her best roles. Brad Pitt plays another important character as the erratic and insane rich man's son, Jeffrey Goines. Otherimportant characters include David Morse as Dr. Peters, Christopher Plummer as Dr. Goines, and Jon Seda as Jose.
The acting in this film is really good and sincere. After seeing movies like Die Hard, I had little faith in Bruce Willis taking on a role like this, but he manages to pull it off. Brad Pitt's performance was also pretty impressive and he plays the role of the manic mental patient very well. Madeleine Stowe also gives a great performance and transitions from an emotionally detached psychologist to a very emotional and energetic pseudo girlfriend.
The music in the film matches the chaos of the events that take place very well. The main theme is a bit odd, featuring an accordion and some other rarely heard instruments. The movie also features several other non-original songs, including a lot of jazz by Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong.
The sets in the film are fantastic, as they are on most Terry Gilliam films. The futuristic prison appears to be built out of random junk, as one might imagine in an apocalyptic future. The asylum is very cold and featureless, perhaps representing the lack of emotion and sympathy the doctors show for Cole. The rest of the film mainly takes place in seedy parts of New York City, with the exception of the Goines' mansion and the airport.
Overall, I feel that the movie is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. The plot is unlike one I have ever seen before, and it constantly keeps the viewer guessing as to what is going to happen. Even more interesting is the fact that a situation like this could really happen and potentially take the human race to the brink of extinction. If you have the chance to watch this film, definitely do so.