Classic Movie Review: Monty Python's Life of Brian
By Clint Chirpich
August 9, 2016
Graham Chapman is perfect in the title role of Brian. His ability to shine as the "straight" man is proven time and time again, but he also gets to let loose in several different parts. One of my favorite parts of the film is a series of scenes where Brian accidentally starts a new religious movement and his followers soon crown him the new Messiah. Chapman sells every reaction - Brian is both incredulous and exasperated by his newfound popularity - and when the crowd of followers chases after him, I was laughing out loud. At the end of the chase, Brian literally stumbles upon a man (Terry Jones) who has taken a vow of silence. The ensuing confrontation is pure comedy gold.
In my research after watching Life of Brian, I learned Chapman - a long suffering but mostly functional alcoholic - so wanted to play the lead role that he sobered up for the first time in years and then, after production was finished, he stayed sober - for the rest of his life. Not only am I grateful he was able to overcome his demons and deliver a stellar comedic performance but I think it's amazing Chapman was able to stay sober after struggling with the addiction for so long. It wouldn't be untrue to say that Life of Brian changed Chapman's life. Ah, the power of film!
John Cleese desperately wanted to play the role of Brian, but the rest of the troupe thought Chapman was the better choice and wanted Cleese’s formidable talents used in several other important roles throughout the film. Cleese might have been disappointed at the time, but this was the right decision, and I can't imagine the film turning out as good any other way. Cleese is just so damn funny in so many different roles - from the High Priest presiding over a stoning to the Centurion of the Yard to Reg, the bickering and bureaucratic leader of the People's Front of Judea. Cleese plays a few other very minor roles, but these three are the largest of the film and each is wonderfully funny and memorable. Reg, especially, delighted me in each scene he appeared. Cleese's ability to speak so swiftly served him well as the leader of this group of self-righteous idiots. The "What have the Romans ever done for us" bit is hilarious and Cleese is a big part of the appeal.
Michael Palin may be my favorite member of Monty Python and he gets some great moments to shine in Life of Brian, including as the prominent and oft-quoted character Pontius Pilate. Palin's Pilate has a bit of a speech impediment and has a difficult time pronouncing words with "r's" in them, which leads to a lot of confusion and laughs at his expense. In reference to one such scene, you can go online and easily order a t-shirt, cap, or mug with Palin's visage and the message "Welease Bwian" on it. Pilate is the definition of a memorable character. Palin's charm is used to terrific effect as the ex-leper, a man who was cured (off screen) by Jesus, but now finds himself without any marketable skills for employment. The way Palin prances around, begging for change and then getting upset about the small amount he's given is just perfect. Palin also plays Francis, a member of the People's Front of Judea, and has a few great moments sparring with Cleese there, as well.