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Overall Rating
3.02

Awesome: 5.95%
Worth A Look: 28.57%
Average: 29.76%
Pretty Bad33.33%
Total Crap: 2.38%

9 reviews, 30 user ratings


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Brothers Grimm, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not as Grimm as the advance word would suggest"
4 stars

For most big-league filmmakers, there comes a time when circumstances (usually a string of less-than-successful projects or a need to re-establish their commercial standing in the industry) force them to make the kind of mass-appeal product–generally a sequel, remake or adaptation of an old TV show or video game–that you wouldn’t normally associate with them. This is why Orson Welles made “The Stranger,” Martin Scorsese redid “Cape Fear” and Brian De Palma brought “The Untouchables” and “Mission: Impossible” to the big screen. Even if the director is good enough to make a slick and entertaining film out of the ingredients handed to him, as the people cited above did to varying degrees, the results never came close to equaling what they were capable of doing with a project near and dear to their hearts.

With “The Brothers Grimm,” it would seem on the surface as though Terry Gilliam, the visionary director of such modern masterpieces as “Brazil,” “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and “12 Monkeys,” has found himself in just that position. The failure of his last directorial effort, his wildly underrated hallucinatory 1998 take on “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas,” and his subsequent inability to get a variety of follow-up projects off the ground (one, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s “Good Omens” fell through when his proposed star, a pre-“Pirates of the Caribbean” Johnny Depp, was not deemed to be a big enough box-office name for financiers and the disasters that he endured during the aborted “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” were so great that they inspired their own film, the bleakly funny documentary “Lost in La Mancha”) left him in a position where he pretty much needed to take anything that he was offered that was ready to film in order to show the studios that he wasn’t washed-up. With its combination of big-name stars, an expensive script by a flavor-of-the-month screenwriter (the ubiquitous Ehren Kruger, the brain trust behind the “Ring” remakes and “The Skeleton Key”) and a huge budget dominated by elaborate CGI-effects, “The Brothers Grimm” looks like just the kind of project that a director on the rocks could quickly and easily turn into an audience-friendly blockbuster that would put him back in the chips.<

However, what is fascinating about the film is that Gilliam, bless his stubborn heart, seems to have refused to simply go with the flow and turn in an anonymous bit of journeyman work. Instead, he has taken a relatively blah project–the kind that could have been filmed by any ten DGA members with little difference–and has attempted against all odds to wrestle it into a Terry Gilliam film. It isn’t an entirely successful struggle but when it works, it really works and when it doesn’t, it illustrates that even a sub-par Gilliam vehicle contains more magic and wonder than the top-flight efforts of most directors working today that you or I could name.

Set in 1796, and fittingly kicking off with a title card reading “Once upon a time . . . ,” “The Brothers Grimm” stars Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as Will and Jacob Grimm, a pair of con-artist brothers who have been exploiting the superstitions of the villages of the German countryside as part of an elaborate money-making scam; they rig up fake monsters and apparitions based on local folklore and then arrive in town and announce that they will “remove” the creatures for a hefty fee. Business is good and the pragmatic Will is content to continue pulling these tricks indefinitely while thoughtful dreamer Jacob (who is careful to collect all of these superstitions in an ever-growing book) is beginning to tire of the charade and wants out of the business.

Things come to a head when they are captured by Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), a representative of the French government that has recently taken over the area. A remote village has been stricken by the disappearances of a number of children (the only trace left by one is a red hood) and the French intruders are suspected of being behind them. suspects that the disappearances are the work of someone pulling a darker version of the same scam the Grimms have been running and he forces them to journey to the town and uncover the mystery themselves. When the Grimms arrive, they initially assume it is an elaborate subterfuge as well (“These people are much better funded than we are!”) until they discover that there are no tricks going on–there really are supernatural forces at work, linked to a curse laid down by an evil queen (Monica Bellucci) who has supposedly been dead for 500 years. Only they, with the help of local trapper Angelika (Lena Headey), who has had two of her own sisters abducted, can possibly break the magic spells and save both the children and the town.

Although Gilliam is generally thought of as a purely visual storyteller whose grasp of narrative structure is shaky at best, his films–whether he has co-written them himself (as he did on “Time Bandits,” “Brazil” and “Munchausen”) or worked from scripts generated by others (“The Fisher King,” “12 Monkeys” and “Fear & Loathing”)–have always been smartly written projects in which the storylines have been strong enough to support their lavish visualizations. Therefore, it is depressing to realize that the single weakest element of “The Brothers Grimm” is the screenplay by Kruger–a half-baked combination of elements borrowed from other sources (the basic storyline is essentially a cop from Peter Jackson’s little-seen “The Frighteners” with chunks of “Ghostbusters” and “Shrek” thrown in for good measure. This is especially disappointing when you stop to think that a film involving the Brothers Grimm should be, at least in part, a celebration of the art of storytelling. Here, things are so jumbled that it is often difficult to understand what is going on at any given point and too many scenes end with people screaming for no apparent reason.

At the same time, however, Gilliam is treating us to so many fabulous sights and sounds that only the most churlish of viewers will be fuddy-duddy enough to gripe about the storyline. Working on enormous and minutely detailed soundstages, he and his army of technicians have created a world that manages to seem like both a living, breathing place and a storybook illustration come to life. (When the film hits DVD, I can see myself freeze-framing on individual moments and spending hours just studying the image in the way one might regard a painting in a museum.) As an added delight, Gilliam crams the edges of every frame with references, hints and suggestions of the classic tales that the Grimms would eventually become famous for.

More importantly, Gilliam also manages to conjure up the creepy edge that existed in all of those tales. Although they have been tamed and flattened out over the centuries, the original versions of most of the classic fairy tales were dark and nasty things that were filled with images that would shock most parents today–in the original version of “Cinderella,” for example, the evil stepsisters hacked off some of their toes in an effort to squeeze into the magical slippers. Gilliam restores that sense of dread here and gives us a grim recreation of the familiar elements–when he restages Hansel & Gretel getting lost in the woods, there is a genuine sense of menace to the proceedings that may put off those expecting the wacky comedy promised in some of the TV commercials (and may very well terrify younger viewers). By doing this, instead of deploying a “Shrek”-like take on the old standards, Gilliam may have sharply reduced the commercial appeal of his film but he has given the original stories the respect and honor that they deserve.

Although the acting is usually the last thing that gets noticed in a spectacle of this size, the performances here are an interesting, if varied, lot. Damon and Ledger has both been cast against type–an ordinary director would have had Damon as the intellectual and reserved Jacob and Ledger as the brash Will–and both are quite good at suggesting their gradual belief in their increasingly bizarre surroundings. Headey is also impressive as the strong and fearless Angelika and Peter Stormare is hilarious as the crazed Italian employed by the French to tag along with the Grimms and report on their efforts. On the other hand, Bellucci, as the central villain, has little to do aside from stand around in a remote tower and mutter various incantations and curses, often under tons of makeup. (It is a typically perverse Gilliam move, I suppose, to cast arguably the most heart-stoppingly beautiful woman in the world in a film and then bury her under old-age makeup for a healthy chunk of her on-screen time.)

Because it went through more than its share of well-reported production difficulties–feuds between Gilliam and Miramax heads Harvey and Bob Weinstein over casting (Gilliam wanted Samantha Morton for the role played by Headey), cinematography (the Weinsteins fired longtime Gilliam collaborator Nicola Pecorini in favor of Newton Thomas Seigel) and a fake nose designed for Damon to wear–and post-production delays so extended that the director was able to go out and shoot an entire second film (“Tideland,” set to premiere next month at the Toronto Film Festival), “The Brothers Grimm” has been written off by many as another nail in Gilliam’s career. While it is admittedly a mess in parts and is clearly a victim of post-production tampering (a prologue, meant to introduce Will and Jacob as young children and establish their characters, is an especially ill-advised move that gets the proceedings off to a less-than-promising start), “The Brothers Grimm” is still a crazy-quilt epic that is rarely less than entertaining and often quite spectacular. It may be Gilliam’s least-successful film to date but I would gladly watch it again in a heartbeat, something I can’t say about too many other films that I have seen this year.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12862&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/26/05 14:07:00
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User Comments

2/07/11 Pamela White fun take on dark age con men and karma 3 stars
9/03/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
6/09/07 Danielle Ophelia Indeed it is better than Van Helsing--long live Gilliam--but that doesn't take much. 3 stars
6/03/07 Beth C. this movie was very interesting and really fun to watch. 5 stars
11/30/06 Stanley Thai Meh. Gilliam kinda falls short with this film. 3 stars
10/20/06 MP Bartley Visually ravishing and loopily entertaining. The film Van Helsing should have been. 4 stars
9/08/06 drydock54321 kind of dumb 3 stars
8/10/06 Dragon The Artist Obviously an attempt at a Labyrinth-ish cult classic; So its strictly medieocre. 3 stars
7/13/06 David Cohen Gilliam's worst movie, lacked cohesion, but not terrible 3 stars
7/07/06 Doremimi If your TV has a subtitles feature, turn it on, otherwise, it's completely incoherent. 2 stars
6/27/06 chienne Loved it, different & typically Gilliam. 5 stars
1/01/06 y2mckay too dumbed down for adults, too violent for kids, weak broad humor and meandering plot. 2 stars
12/25/05 othree Disneyish butchering Grimm favorites, in good humor, family movie 3 stars
12/19/05 um fatty it was a good movie um, publish 4 stars
12/19/05 Bree It was a fun film, but less than par for Gilliam. 3 stars
9/22/05 Fritz Dollar theaters were made for this sort of movie. Entertaining. 3 stars
9/21/05 Jonathon Holmes booooooooooooring 2 stars
9/21/05 Eric Fortune I thought this movie was better than most critics said it was. I enjoyed it. 4 stars
9/19/05 Glennyce Paetzmann If you're willing to submit to Gilliam's style completely, then you might end up liking it. 4 stars
9/15/05 millersxing A disappointment. BG is to Gilliam as Sleepy Hollow is to Burton. 3 stars
9/07/05 Gray I thought it would more funny and less weird 3 stars
8/31/05 Christian lady Too choppy, boring other than the forest scenes 3 stars
8/31/05 Titus Moments of genius, but some horrible writing and acting by the supporting cast. 3 stars
8/29/05 herkos akhaion One of Gilliam's best 5 stars
8/28/05 sweetgrrl1972 Boring. I've never come so close to falling asleep in a movie theatre before 1 stars
8/27/05 cam-ron I already saw this film. It was called BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF...only that one was good. 2 stars
8/27/05 sam a wild romp i recommend for all. 4 stars
8/27/05 KingNeutron SUCKS ALL ASS; I can't blv they actually released this pile of CRAP. Ledger is miscast. 1 stars
8/27/05 Mr. Chuckles Surprisingly awesome. Almost as good as Twelve Monkeys. Almost. 5 stars
8/26/05 Ray OK 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  26-Aug-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 20-Dec-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  24-Nov-2005


Directed by
  Terry Gilliam

Written by
  Ehren Kruger

Cast
  Matt Damon
  Heath Ledger
  Peter Stormare
  Jonathan Pryce
  Monica Bellucci
  Lena Headey



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