It's Heath Ledger's final film - but this isn't really Heath Ledger's film.
Strange and surreal, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is a Terry Gilliam film through and through. The director of Time Bandits, Brazil and 12 Monkeys is known for fantasies overflowing with ideas and imagination, with plot often taking a back seat to his astounding visuals.
Parnassus spins a fable about The Devil, an immortal con artist and a beautiful girl caught in between. Ledger is Tony, a mysterious stranger whose true nature is uncertain.
This wasn't meant to be Ledger's epitaph, but his sudden death at age 28 threatened to scuttle filming. Gilliam managed to save the project by using what footage remained of Ledger.
In scenes that take place in a "mirror universe," Ledger's friends Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell make cameos in his role, playing "aspects" of Tony. It's a nifty trick that pretty much couldn't have worked in any other movie.
It's a shame that Ledger's character is one of the movie's weak spots. Ledger gave it his all, but the role is poorly written and no Dark Knight. The seams in the story used to work around his death are too obvious and his character's fate very unsatisfying. Ultimately he feels like a bystander to Gilliam's show.
Ledger will get all the press, but Tom Waits nearly steals the show as The Devil, all oily charm, and venerable Christopher Plummer is fantastic as the immortal Parnassus. Striking model Lily Cole is also good as young Vanessa, who proves the plot's main character.
Fans of Gilliam will love the elaborate design, such as Parnassus' colourful travelling show cart, or the dazzling scenes set in a world ruled by imagination, which are like watching Gilliam's old Monty Python animations come alive. Gilliam's endless whimsy can threaten to wear viewers out, but it's rarely boring.
Moviegoers expecting easy-to-follow storytelling may stay away but, in its sprawling way, Gilliam's film is a fine tribute to an actor gone too soon - and to the art of the story itself.