Directed by Terry Gilliam
reviewed by Ian Dawe
| The best thing about The Brothers Grimm is that
it was directed by Terry Gilliam. The worst thing is that it was
produced by the Weinsteins. Slightly sloppy storytelling and an
uneven pace mar what could have been a strong return to the style
of Gilliamís early fantasy films.
Despite the title, the movie is not so much a re-telling of the
classic Grimm fairy tales as a cockeyed quasi-biopic of the Grimms
themselves. Jacob Grimm (a solid Heath Ledger) and his brother
Will (Matt Damon, badly miscast) are peculiar 18th
century charlatans who travel, Ghostbusters-style, from
village to village, ostensibly fighting demonic infestations.
They are in fact complete and utter fakes who stage elaborate
re-creations of ghastly incidents, which they proceed to solve
in high dramatic style and collect payment. Along the way, the
scholarly Jacob collects a rich repository of local lore that,
if the filmís conceit is to be believed, form the basis of their
famous collection of fairy tales.
Everything is working out in their scam until they encounter
a town, in Napolean-occupied Germany, in which young girls are
being abducted by mysterious forces in the woods. They work their
usual tricks but their cover is blown by the occupying French
General Delatombe (Jonathon Pryce, enjoying a scenery snack) and
sent into the hands of his resident torturer, Cavaldi (Peter Stormare).
Eventually, they are pressed back into service as exorcists, but
this time, the enemy is real, and the Grimms must use all their
skills to escape death at the hands of either the evil spirits
or the French.
It all sounds wonderful, Iím sure, and I havenít even described
all of the plot setup. It is perhaps because of this excess of
plot that the film suffers, but letís start with the positive.
As directed by Gilliam, the film is visually wonderful: moody
and richly detailed, with many amusing call-outs to famous Grimm
tales, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White,
etc. The film is also a welcome return to the classic puppetry-and-makeup
days of Labyrinth and Jim Hensonís Storyteller series.
This is all in spite of the fact that Gilliam was working without
a major component of his filmmaking team: cinematographer Nicola
Pecorini. Pecorini was, in fact, the first casualty of the battles
between Gilliam and Harvey Weinstein Ė fired apparently because
he "works too slowly".
The loss of his cinematographer was apparently something Gilliam
could work through, but Weinsteinís fingerprints are all over
the film in other ways. The whole second act, for example, feels
rushed and sloppy where it should be moody and graceful. A key
relationship in the film (the "love interest") is handled
inexcusably badly, with no chemistry or conviction between Ledger
and Lena Headey, playing the mysterious local girl Angelika. One
senses that given time and a change of pace, the two actors could
pull it off, but the film feels desperate to get to the end, the
"secret" of which is obvious early on, robbing an otherwise
intriguing sequence of any real suspense.
Not all the problems are editing and story related. Peter Stormare
proves that he is much more effective playing a subdued menace
than an over-the-top peacock. (Besides that, someone should have
realized early on that a Swede playing an Italian speaking English
is a recipe for a completely incomprehensible accent.) Matt Damon
never looks comfortable in the surroundings, with his wig and
his accent somewhat tenuously attached.
The film ultimately falls on the weakness, not of its story,
but of its storytelling. Most critics (myself included) place
the blame on Weinstein. It wouldnít be the first time heís interfered
with a film, and it also wouldnít be the first time Gilliam has
dealt with meddling producers. Previously, on Brazil, he
finally got his way. In The Brothers Grimm, he loses, and
so do we.
freelance writer and longtime film enthusiast, Ian
Dawe is now completing a Master's Degree in Film History.
He currently teaches at Selkirk College in Castlegar, British