Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Fisher King

by Andrew Hudak

Robin Williams teams with Jeff Bridges in this touching 1991 drama

In “The Fisher King,” Jack (Jeff Bridges) is a fast talking shock jock on a New York City radio station. In spite of the fact that he is rude to his callers and is a total misanthrope, he is the hottest radio act in town. So much so that he and his agent (David Pierce) are excited about an upcoming role on a television show that could make him a big star.

His enthusiasm quickly crumbles when he learns that Edwin (Christian Clemenson), a daily caller who seems to enjoy getting abused by Jack, has taken Jack’s words a bit too much to heart. Shortly after getting off of the phone with Jack, Edwin went to a local bar and opened fire with a shotgun, killing several people.

Edwin’s actions shake Jack to his core. All of the bile and vitriol that he spilled out over the radio has finally come back to bite him, in a big way. We see that underneath Jack’s gruff, unfeeling, uncaring, people hating exterior is a man who really does care about his fellow man. He is shocked and horrified to the point where, when the movie picks up three years after the incident, Jack is still haunted and tormented by that day. Even though he never told Edwin to commit such atrocities, he feels responsible and is filled with regret. It’s a pain he tries to numb with a lot of heavy drinking.

One night while out and about, a drunk Jack is attacked by a couple of rich punks. They’re about to really lay into him when Parry (Robin Williams) and his gang of fellow homeless men come to Jack’s rescue. Jack spends the night at Parry’s place—the basement of an apartment building—and learns of Parry’s plans to steal the Holy Grail from a castle-looking house in the city. In a pretty funny moment, Parry also explains to Jack about how he came to see fat little fairies floating around him after having an exceptionally fantastic bowel movement. In order to convey the ecstasy, Robin Williams makes faces that only Robin Williams can make. It’s priceless.

Jack also learns that Parry’s wife was one of the victims of Edwin’s attack. For the first time in three years, there’s hope for Jack. If he can help Parry get back on his feet, it will help him to assuage the feelings of guilt he has been carrying around with him. Luckily for Jack, he has a very dedicated girlfriend named Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) to assist him on his quest. She runs a video store and lives in the apartment above it. Jack is supposed to help her out, but he mainly just gets drunk in the back room porno section. In spite of all of Jack’s faults, like excessive drinking, laziness, grumpiness, and staying out all night with Parry, Anne has a big heart and is quick to forgive.

While “The Fisher King” may be about Jack and his shot at redemption by helping out Parry, Anne is the stand out character. She is the heart, soul, and conscience of the story. The fact that she is portrayed by Mercedes Ruehl as the straightforward and level-headed counterbalance to Jack’s unhinged debauchery is perfection. Even 24 years later, it is clear to see why Ruehl won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Her Anne has the clearest head and the kindest heart in the movie. She has the type of upbeat positivity that keeps it from being too cynical. Every scene with her is a delight to watch, even when things get serious.

The one other character worth mentioning is Lydia, played by Amanda Plummer. She’s a mousy office worker that Parry has a crush on. Parry follows her around and admires her from afar. As we learn more about Lydia, we come to understand the pain and frustration that she has in her life. Lydia’s transition in Parry’s eyes—and ours as well—goes from bumbling and barely noticed to sympathy and understanding. There is a reason why Lydia is who she is and acts the way she does—same as with Jack, Parry, and Anne.

That ultimately is the point of the “Fisher King,” at least for me. People cannot be judged by appearances alone. The callous shock jock actually does have a soul. The crazy homeless man isn’t so crazy once you hear his story. The straight-talking, brassy woman is actually very vulnerable--and even a bit desperate--on the inside. And the young lady that no one pays attention to may be a gorgeous queen in one man’s eyes. The genius of “The Fisher King” is that is conveys all of this with no preachiness, and through a rich, wonderful, tragic, yet ultimately uplifting story. It is, arguably, director Terry Gilliam’s most finely crafted movie. Buy it.

The Fisher King [Blu-ray]

More New Releases: “Needful Things,” Stephen King adaptation about a town in Maine where all of the inhabitants start trying to kill each other after the arrival of a stranger (Max von Sydow); “Dog Soldiers,” Neil Marshall’s directorial debut about a squad of soldiers getting attacked by wolves in the Scottish Highlands; and “Johnny Be Good,” the movie that entered “I broke my dick, coach,” into the American screenwriting canon.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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