Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Heath Ledger and Matt Damon) travel from town to town in early 1800’s Germany driving out imaginary enchanted creatures and performing the odd faux exorcism. Their scamming ways have succeeded for years until, one day, they come to a village where real magical beings rule the land and the pair must summon genuine courage in “The Brothers Grimm.”
Jake and Will have counted on the gullibility of their con victims as they invent all manner of fantastical creatures, from witches to demons to trolls, to evict, for a hefty fee, from the village. The lucrative game is always pulled off with flawless aplomb and pomp as they don their shiny armor to do supernatural battle - with carefully selected townsfolk present to witness the brave heroics.
The 19th century demon busters enter the town of Marbaden where young girls have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Will and Jake go into their usual spiel promising to stop the mysterious kidnappings and bring back the missing children They aren’t prepared for the fact that there is a wicked witch and her minion in the enchanted forest that are responsible for the crimes. Fortunately, for the con artists, a beautiful and capable hunter, Angelika (Lena Headey), volunteers her woodland skills to the baffled brothers and they set off to break the witches spell.
Terry Gilliam has had a unique career over the many years making films since his days with Monty Python’s Flying Circus. His works are sometimes classics – Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is, 30 years later, still extremely funny and timeless – and sometimes wannabe classics, like “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” I’m sad to say, “The Brothers Grimm” isn’t a wannabe. It is a dud.
Scripter Ehren Kruger has hashed together a manically energetic but lifeless mishmash of fantasy and action. I like the way things start as we see the beginnings of such Grimm brothers fairytales as “Jack and the Bean Stock,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Hansel and Gretle” with all of their darkness and fantasy. But, as the main story about the wicked witch and all that kicks in and the adventure begins, things get flat.
One major problem is the casting of Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as Will and Jake. Damon gives a manic performance that feels forced and not funny. Ledger, as the skittish Jake, screams in fright a lot and is totally miscast as a nebbish. Comedy actors are what’re called for, not thespians, and this is one of the other things that steep “The Brothers Grimm” in the doldrums. The supporting cast does yeomen’s work but is left to flap in the breeze. Director Gilliam doesn’t seem to be in control of things and leaves his star actors to their own devices.
A couple of things “The Brothers Grimm” does well enough are production design and some imaginative special effects. The dark fairytale look is suitably Grimm” and, if key things like acting and script were up to par, would have been a big plus. The F/X do have a digital manufactured feel but things like the living, moving enchanted forest carry a creepy quality befitting the Grimm tales.
It has been seven years since Gilliam made “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” unless you count his aborted Man of La Mancha” – rent, if you can, the entertaining documentary about a filmmaking disaster, Lost in La Mancha”. Maybe it’s too long a layoff for the usually creative helmer. Even the gorgeous Monica Bellucci, as the wicked witch, couldn’t make me like this film. I give it a C.Laura:
In the early 1800's of a French occupied Germany, superstition and fear run rife while tales of witches, trolls and other assorted monstrosities spread across the countryside. Elders of the villages and towns cursed with problems of the supernatural kind wring their hands. Who they gonna call? Rumor has it there are two who can battle any beastie - "The Brothers Grimm."
Director Terry Gilliam, last seen in the documentary "Lost in La Mancha" struggling against the tide of bad luck that was his uncompleted "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" has kept his fans waiting for eight long years (1998's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" was his last film. Unfortunately Ehren Kruger's ("Reindeer Games" and both "Ring" remakes) fanciful script and Gilliam's battles with the Weinstein Brothers (who fired his cinematographer among other things) have both seemingly upended his latest, which is middling at best. Oh, for "Don Quixote..."
The brothers' differing personalities are established with a 1796 prologue, when older brother Wilhelm derides the younger Jacob for trading their precious goods for magic beans. Fifteen years later, Wilhelm (Matt Damon, "The Bourne Supremacy") is still the pragmatist, Jacob (Heath Ledger, "Lords of Dogtown") the dreamer. We also soon learn that they are con men who fabricate their own spooks, playacted by Hidlick (Mackenzie Crook, "The Merchant of Venice") and Bunst (Richard Ridings, "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"), but they're busted by Cavaldi (Peter Stormare, "Constantine"), henchman of General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce, "De-Lovely"), who releases them under guard to break the very real curse of Marbaden Woods, where young girls from Little Red Riding Hood to Hans' sister Greta have recently gone missing.
The cast gamely try to inject some life into the project, but the writing lets them down, with a setup that is far more rewarding than the eventual adventure, which drags on and on to dwindling effect, Grimm Brothers' fairy tale references replaced with the slow grinding of plot wheels. Gilliam was smart to cast his leads against type. Romantic lead Ledger is once again, after his Val Kilmerish turn in "Dogtown," virtually unrecognizable as the closely cropped, bookish romantic who shuns his brother's boisterous ways while blond-locked Damon is a womanizing party animal of far lesser morals. Damon's quite up to the slapstick, whether caught out in bed with two women or denigrating his own handmade armor, and gets off a number of pithy jibes. Ledger does well enough with the less flashy Jacob, alternating between nose-in-the-book earnestness and wide-eyed terror. Having an utter field day, though, are Pryce and Stormare, who both wield outrageous accents. 'What is this I am enduring?' sniffs Pryce, nose wrinkled above a plate of wurst he's been served. Stormare's Italianized dialogue is often unintelligible, but always amusing. Lena Headey ("Ripley's Game") as the huntress Angelika, connected to Marbaden's curse through her father, the Woodsman (Tomás Hanák, "Little Otik," a more weirdly rewarding Czech filmed folktale), is merely OK as is Monica Bellucci ("The Passion of the Christ"), as the 500 year-old Mirror Queen, a character comprised from Snow White's evil queen, Rapunzel and the real life vampiric Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
Production design (Guy Dyas, "X2") has the artificial autumnal look of Neil Jordan's "Company of Wolves." Special effects include walking trees, an animatronic wolf and a shattered mirror reminiscent of "Young Sherlock Holmes'" stained glass knight. The two most startling sequences appear to be a creation of the filmmakers, as I have been unable to trace either back to the prolific Brothers Grimm. In the first, Jacob's horse is fed white insects which cause it to go mad and swallow a child. The second, simpler but still very effective, shows young Marbaden resident Sasha (Laura Greenwood) encounter a bird in a well which causes her to lose her face to a figure which rises up from the mud. Alas, after this occurs we must endure endless duels and malicious trees which have less personality than "The Wizard of Oz's" and less menace than "The Evil Dead's."
"The Brothers Grimm" certainly shows more imagination than most of Hollywood's summer offerings, but it's a pretty lackluster entry in the Gilliam oeuvre. Hopefully his upcoming "Tideland," which certainly sounds grimmer than "The Brothers Grimm," will dazzle like the Gilliam of old.
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