The Brothers Grimm (2005)

Director Terry Gilliam is one of the true artists working today in movies. His manic, off kilter, visually grand imagination has crafted wonderfully vivid fantasias, but it also has given Gilliam a reputation for being the captain of a sinking ship. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is regarded as one of Hollywood’s bigger failures, unfairly I might add. A fascinating 2003 documentary called Lost in La Mancha detailed the bizarre circumstances and implosions that forced Gilliam to shut down production of his pride and joy, a film about Don Quixote. We’re talking things as out of control and unlucky as acts of God conspiring to doom this project. But then, Gilliam has always been fighting someone or something his whole film career. The studio refused Gilliam’s cut of Brazil so he sneaked out a print, showed it to the Los Angeles film community, and they dubbed it the best film of that year. Gilliam is a man governed by his idiosyncrasies. He’s blessed with a unique voice but cursed with the prospects of not having anywhere to say something (would he not make simply the most divine Harry Potter film yet?). And so Gilliam strikes his hands at something a bit more commercially minded with the action/comic fable, The Brothers Grimm.

Will (Matt Damon) and Jakob (Heath Ledger) Grimm are nineteenth century ghostbusters, so to speak. They travel from town to town ridding the villagers of evil spirits, witches, and all sorts of demonic creatures. Trouble is it’s all a lie. The Grimm brothers and their pals set up the spooks and rob the town blind. Will enjoys the fame, and especially the women, but Jakob feels apprehensive. It?s the Napoleonic wars, and the French have occupied the Germanic lands. A snooty general (Jonathan Pryce) plans to behead the two Grimm brothers unless they solve a strange case in a rural town. A slapsticky, torture-loving commander (Peter Storemare) is sent to watch over the “Grimmies.” At the village, Will and Jakob discover the town has had 10 of its daughters kidnapped with little explanation. With the help of a free-spirited woman (Lena Headey), the brothers encounter giant wolves, moving trees, lickable frogs, and the giant tower of the Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci). The Queen was given eternal life but not eternal youth. In order to gain eternal youth, the Queen needs to take the lives of 12 hearty girls, and only the bumbling Grimm brothers stand in her way.

The acting is an example of the film’s messy feel. Ledger talks with marbles in his mouth. He’s putting more detail into the character than it deserves. Damon seems like he’s sleepwalking through the film, and his accent fluctuates wildly. He’s sort of a grinning straight man to Ledger’s tic-heavy daydream believer. Belluci is a ravishing beauty and proof positive for Hollywood that women over 40 don’t need to be put out to pasture. Too bad all she’s expected to do is look pretty and seductive in The Brothers Grimm. Pryce plays his role like a cartoon caricature. Stormare has already given one crazy performance this year (Constantine), and his frenzied, nearly indecipherable performance seems to be the closest to Gilliam’s whacked-out wavelength. Stormare is entertaining in every scene he’s in but can be found guilty of chewing scenery like it was a delicious candy house.

The Brothers Grimm is a gorgeous looking film. The sets are massive and greatly detailed. The location shoots in Prague seem like the perfect environment for Gilliam’s beyond-this-world landscapes. Gilliam experiments with advanced computer graphics for the first time and adds his oddball touches. A child has her eyes taken by a glob of mud, and then the mud reshapes itself into a lumbering gingerbread man. A horse spits out a spiderweb and ensnares a child. And it looks really freaking creepy. The Mirror Queen’s defeat is another standout effect as she breaks apart like shattered glass. The look of The Brothers Grimm is outstanding, but it’s what takes place inside those pretty pictures that dooms the film to mediocrity.

The Brothers Grimm is an unfocused mess. It has disjointed subplots and several story elements that just don’t fit. The wacky French occupation feels like a leftover from a different movie. It just doesn’t work and grinds the movie to a screeching halt with every resurfacing. The Brothers Grimm will routinely work its way into a narrative corner and then use a “magic” cheat to escape (magic axe, magic mirror, magic kiss). Gilliam has always been a master maestro of chaos and visual oddities, but this time he’s tackled a film with a very weak script by Ehren Kruger (Ring Two). Kruger doesn’t bother laying the groundwork of his magical world or establish the rules. Therefore anything can happen and rarely feels satisfying. The characters are one-note, each given a single character trait to play with (skeptic, believer, idiot, etc.). The pacing is pretty sluggish. The first act takes an eternity to set up the film’s characters, plot, and yet it still feels sloppy. The twists and turns are easily telegraphed and unexpectedly boring. The plot is frustrating, shortsighted in scope, and far too conventional for Gilliam’s tastes. When The Brothers Grimm reaches its happy ending you’ll swear you can hear Gilliam gagging somewhere.

Gilliam adds a worthy macabre tone to the film. There will be touches that you know are pure Gilliam, like a woman skinning a rabbit as she talks, or a cat flying into the blades or a torture device. In fact, The Brothers Grimm has a lot of humor involving the comic demise of animals. This isn’t exactly a film appropriate for young children despite the appeal of a fairy tale background. The film wants to tweak fairy tale legends like the two Shreks, but Gilliam wants to make them disturbing nightmares, not something of irreverence. This puts the film’s tone at odds. One minute you’ll have a scene that?s morbid, darkly funny, and unconventional, and then the next minute you’ll have a scene that’s cliché, dull, and whimsically misplaced.

The Brothers Grimm feels like a Terry Gilliam film under glass. The script is weak and plodding, the characters barely leave a dent, and the tone is uneven. The plot is pulled in too many directions and lacks momentum. There are a handful of fun comic diversions but the movie feels like a loose collection of disjointed story elements. There are flashes of grim humor and visual elegance but more often than not the film is just stupendously boring. The Brothers Grimm feels the same way the Coen brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty felt: a unique vision compromised and downsized by studio conformity. You can see the indie spirit but the heart just isn’t beating. The Brothers Grimm is mediocre at best. How very grim indeed.

Nate’s Grade: C

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on August 27, 2005, in 2005 Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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