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The Brothers  Grimm

The Brothers Grimm
Directed by Terry Gilliam

reviewed by Ian Dawe

August 30, 2005 | 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.


A 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 Columbia.


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