The Brothers Grimm Review
By Shawn McKenzie 08/26/2005
Like every other movie geek, such as me, I love the Monty Python movies. Terry Gilliam, the only American in the comedy troupe (though he didn’t act with them), directed many of their movies, and he did the animation for those parts of them that had animation in it. His career after the Python movies has been hit-and-miss for me though. The Brothers Grimm, his first movie in seven years, isn’t exactly one of his best.
It’s 1796, and a young Jacob “Jake” Grimm (Jeremy Robson) has come home with a handful of magic beans. He had gone to town to trade his family’s cow for medicine for his dying sister (Anna Rust) and to feed his mother (Barbara Lukêsova) and older brother Wilhelm “Will” Grimm (Petr Ratimec), but he traded the cow for the beans instead. They are of course ticked at Jake for being duped by that bean con man. Fifteen years later, Will (Matt Damon) and Jake Grimm (Heath Ledger) have become con men themselves, with the help of their two assistants Hidlick (Mackenzie Crook) and Bunst (Richard Ridings) in the French-occupied German countryside. They specialize in some fake 19th century ghostbusting, such as getting rid of a mill witch for an old miller (Miroslav Táborský) in the town of Karlstadt. Their scam is foiled though by Italian executioner named Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), who is the henchman for French leader General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce.) Delatombe at first orders that they be executed, but he has a change of heart and has them use their conning skills to investigate the disappearance of several little girls by an enchanted forest. In this forest outside the village of Marbaden, nine girls have vanished, including a red-hooded girl, a.k.a. Little Red Riding Hood (Alena Jakobova), and Greta, a.k.a. Gretel (Denisa Vokurkova), the sister of Hans, a.k.a. Hansel (Martin Svetlik.) The villagers truly believe that there is a curse on the forest, and if they are going to save their own skin, the Brothers Grimm must find out if it truly is haunted, or if this is just another con. Will is more of a skeptic than Jake, who actually writes down the weird things that he sees. Local trapper Angelika (Lena Headey), who has had two of her sisters disappear in the forest, assists the brothers. Her father, The Woodsman (Tomás Hanák), who is also missing (though not by the forest), once told a young Angelika (Denisa Malinovska) that the reason why the forest is cursed is because a wicked queen (Monica Bellucci) lived in a tower and combed her long Rapunzel-like hair while her subjects died in a plague. She died herself 500 years ago, but sought to become immortal, and the only way she can see her younger self is in a magic mirror. Cavaldi watches them closely as they set out to find the person or persons responsible for the missing girls. When they are attacked by trees whose roots try to grab them, plus they witness other girls disappear, including a girl named Elsie (Veronika Loulova), who is swallowed whole by a horse, and Sasha (Laura Greenwood), who has her face taken by a blob-like Gingerbread Man, the brothers begin to realize that the curse is real. They set out to try to stop it, which includes licking a couple of frogs and kissing a few sleeping beauties.
Gilliam’s last movie was 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I hated (and I usually love all Johnny Depp movies.) Between that movie and this one, he had been trying to film a movie called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but he ran into an unbelievable series of unfortunate circumstances (documented in the 2002 movie Lost In La Mancha.) This movie itself had to be put on hold for six months because of a problem on the set (of which he made the movie Tideland in the meantime, due to come out sometime next year.) According to many published reports, there was a lot of studio interference while the movie was being made. Both Gilliam and Damon wanted to hire Samantha Morton for the female lead (instead of Headey), but Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the former co-heads of Miramax, vetoed this. Bob himself personally fired cinematographer Nicola Pecorini and replaced him with Newton Thomas Sigel. I don’t know if those things would have made a difference though.
I think that it might have been the writing. Ehren Kruger wrote the script, who managed to give the passable horror movie The Skeleton Key a good ending. Here it is just incomplete though. He adds in many references to several famous Grimm fairy tales, but they are all so short that the audience doesn’t get to have much fun with them.
The cast tried to do their best with what they were given. Damon and Ledger were believable English scoundrels. Pryce and Stormare were goofy but entertaining bad guys (the magical forest was the real bad guy though.) Headey was okay, but she had no chemistry with either Damon or Ledger (and Kruger’s script didn’t exactly foster the romance that she was supposed to have with either brother.)
Some of the special effects were disturbing, while others were just bad. The two most memorable scenes (the horse scene and the Gingerbread Man scene, described above) looked impressive and nightmarish. Other scenes, including all of the scenes of a werewolf that walked on two legs, looked phony (it reminded me of the bad CGI work done in last year’s Catwoman.)
Despite all of that, The Brothers Grimm wasn’t Gilliam’s worst movie. Some of the humor displayed by a few of the actors (especially Damon) and some of the special effects were cool, but the story wasn’t the best. Grimm tales have always been unsettling, and seeing them visually on the big screen might be scary for little kids. There is little to no blood in the movie though, so the MPAA has finally accurately rated a movie with an appropriate PG-13 rating. Lets hope that Tideland, once it finds a studio, won’t have tinkering done to it, because even a bad Gilliam movie isn’t boring.
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