The True Don Quixote (
Written and directed by Chris Poche
Starring Tim Blake Nelson, Jacob Batalon, Ann Mahoney)
This surprisingly faithful modern retelling of the Cervantes’ classic sees a lonesome librarian with a love of history lose his job and retreat into a fantasy world of chivalry and derring do. When this bookworm is involved in a car accident his eccentricity evolves into grand delusion and he believes his destiny rests on knightly quests, distant kingdoms and killing giants.
Coen brothers’ regular Tim Blake Nelson gives a fully committed performance as our titular hero blending energetic slapstick with verbal dexterity and his Sancho Panza is played deadpan and sympathetic by Jacob Batalon (fine tuning the straight man sidekick role he provides in the most recent Spider-Man movies) who, like the audience, grows more protective of the reckless Don as his futile quests grow ever more desperate.
First time director Poche makes excellent use of the Louisiana countryside and is gifted an entertaining and adept supporting cast of local talent. The script foregrounds the idea of Quixote’s presumed mental breakdown which has the unintended effect of muting the humour in many of the scenes. Are we laughing with or at our increasingly hapless hero? There are some nice set-pieces including Don attempting to free some prisoners on litter picking duty and some neat verbals fine tuned from Poche’s time writing gags for animated movies.
Given the nature of the source material, the film is episodic and there are some adapted scenes that work well in a contemporary setting and others that seem a touch laboured. If anything the film is perhaps too loyal to the novel. The appearance of a reflective hard-boiled cop on the duo’s trail threatens to raise the temperature but is an angle which remains pretty much unexploited.
The True Don Quixote is an odd film and certainly not for everybody. It’s amusing rather than laugh-out loud funny. And maybe cleverer, or at least more precious, than it needs to be. That said, it’s a pacier (and wittier) movie than Terry Gilliam’s bloated effort and to Poche’s credit, was presumably shot and completed for an infinitesimal fraction of the ex-Python’s budget.
The True Don Quixote is on digital platforms from August 2nd.