The True Don Quixote is an offbeat and entertaining spin on the famous story, bolstered by a dedicated Tim Blake Nelson performance.
One year after Terry Gilliam's long-gestating The Man Who Killed Don Quixote finally premiered, viewers are treated to another - and very different - take on the classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Fortunately for the filmmakers, The True Don Quixote did not spent 29 years lingering in development hell. Writer/director Chris Poche commenced principal photography in 2017, and now the film is available on various streaming and On Demand platforms. If one didn't get their full Don Quixote fix with Gilliam's film, this movie is definitely worth checking out. The True Don Quixote is an offbeat and entertaining spin on the famous story, bolstered by a dedicated Tim Blake Nelson performance.
In The True Don Quixote, Nelson stars as Daniel Kehoe, a lonely middle-aged man who finds comfort in reading books about the legendary medieval knights. His obsession runs so deep that one day, Daniel snaps and comes to believe that he himself is one of these knights. Adapting the title Don Quixote of La Mancha, he embarks on a noble quest to eliminate all traces of evil and tyranny in his small neighborhood. Daniel recruits the young Kevin (Jacob Batalon) to be his trusted squire "Sancho" on the journey, but not everyone in the town is pleased by the pair's various exploits.
Poche recontextualizes the original text by setting The True Don Quixote in a modern world, which instantly creates a rather amusing juxtaposition. There's plenty of humor to be found in the imagery of Daniel, decked out in his homemade knight costume, traversing the land as others watch in bewilderment. Some of the sequences Poche stages are very funny and take full advantage of the film's absurd premise, pulling off a very tricky balancing act. However, a case can be made The True Don Quixote is a bit too fluffy and light in its execution, as it skirts around the mental health issues that clearly plague Daniel, offering only the briefest insight into his mindset. A more serious exploration into Daniel's condition may not have jived with the film's tone, but Poche might have benefited from examining what makes Daniel tick before he goes off the deep end. If anything, this could have strengthened the film's emotional core to make certain beats land a little better.
Nelson is perhaps the only actor alive who could have played Daniel so effectively. He's no stranger to peculiar characters (he's a Coen brothers veteran), and this modern Don Quixote is definitely one of the oddest people Nelson's been asked to portray. In the hands of lesser talent, this performance could have flown off the rails in disastrous fashion, but Nelson fully commits and just goes for broke, allowing viewers to buy in. There's obviously a comedic nature to Nelson's turn, but he isn't doing a parody of a medieval knight; he makes the audience truly believe he's a person convinced he is a knight. Nelson also has solid chemistry with Batalon, who helps ground the picture by being something of an audience surrogate. His reactions to what's happening are realistic and hilarious and Batalon develops a sweet dynamic with Nelson over time. Some viewers may find his Sancho to be a riff on the teenage sidekick Batalon's perfected in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movies, but that fits here.
Sadly, the supporting cast outside of Batalon doesn't have much else to do. They more or less simply fill out the rest of the roles in the story and stick to a single archetype, rather than being something more dynamic (i.e. Ann Mahoney as Daniel's concerned niece Janelle). On one hand, this approach works because Daniel is imagining himself in a classic story, and is "casting" the people he comes across in various parts to fit his narrative. However, it prevents most of the ensemble from leaving much of an impact, and that can hurt The True Don Quixote in a few places (see: Daniel's frequent proclamations of love for Lady Dulce de Leche of Tabasco). Nobody here does a bad job per se, there just isn't a lot of material for some of the actors to work with.
The True Don Quixote does not have aspirations of competing with the fall's major blockbusters and Oscar contenders, but that's fine. The film knows exactly what it is and has no problem staying in its lane. Quirky indies aren't always for everyone's taste, but this one is worth seeking out. Despite a few shortcomings (mainly with the writing), it's fun and should delight viewers - regardless of how familiar they are with the original Don Quixote novel. If one's looking for a change of pace, this film should provide just that.
The True Don Quixote is now streaming on various platforms. It runs 84 minutes and is not rated.
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