The Brothers Grimm
Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Jonathan Pryce, Monica Bellucci, Peter Stormare and Lena Headley
Review: The premise of The Brothers Grimm should immediately induce two thoughts: Recasting dull German scholars Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as adventurous young hearththrobs fighting real fairy-tale creatures is the absolute dumbest premise for a movie outside of casting Rob Schneider as a man women would pay to have sex with. Second, that only a genius of Terry Gilliam’s caliber could pull this off.
And you’d be half right. Gilliam fails so badly here, you want to check the credits to make sure it wasn’t done by some unknown cousin, maybe a Jerry Gilliam. I mean, the premise of Time Bandits is pretty dumb if you reduce it to a sentence, and The Fisher King could be a tough pitch, too. I’m not sure you even can reduce Brazil to one coherent sentence. Yet in each case, the inventive lunacy of Gilliam makes the films not just successful, but masterful. The Brothers Grimm just sucks. And you know, I would not have thought I could possibly hate a movie that casts Monica Bellucci as an evil queen. But by god (who, if she really exists, would have to look exactly like Monica Bellucci), that’s what happens here.
This paragraph contains one early spoiler of perhaps the film’s only highlight. If you’re gonna see this tedious piece of crap, do yourself a favor and skip ahead. “Will” and “Jake” Grimm, improbably assayed by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, are ghostbusters who make their living conning dull villagefolk by staging hauntings that they then come and eradicate, earning them gold and heroic status. Cynical Damon revels in this. Twitch, introverted Ledger feels remorse, and takes a real interest in recording local folktales. Then they have to face a real haunting.
It’s all well and good until the French authorities capture the Grimms and tell them — with the cold rationality of the French Enlightenment — that there are no such things as fairies, witches and ghosts. So Will and Jake must be executed — unless they can handle the town of Marbaden, where nearly a dozen young girls have vanished in the “haunted” forest. Of course, it’s a true haunting — and a big one. So the brothers end up seriously over their heads. With the interference of their vile French custodian and the unwilling assistance of a local trapper — an improbably cute and girlish local trapper — the brothers end up facing the immortal (but not so ageless) evil queen of the forest.
Part of the alleged charm of this movie is supposed to be the cameos of familiar characters from the Grimm tales. So we see a girl in a little red cape get snatched by a big, bad wolf. Young Hans and Greta get lost in the woods when birds eat their breadcrumb trail. One of the kidnapped girls, during a moment of evil magic, inexplicably acquires glass slippers on her feet. And there is an evil queen with a magic mirror who longs to be the fairest of them all. But none of these flickering appearances generates any charm, whimsy, humor or interest.
How the hell the screenwriters manage to make the most captivating collection of stories in the western canon so unbearably lifeless and banal is beyond explanation. It may employ the same set of “skills” that allow them to coat half-hearted elements of brotherly rivalry, childhood trauma, guilt and avarice, and a faint stab at romantic tension in teflon ““ none of it sticks together.
The cast … Matt Damon is, well, Matt Damon. There’s something creepy behind the eyes, and if you’re gonna put him in a fairy tale movie, make him turn out to be the big, bad wolf, you know? But that aside, he’s his usual fine self here. Stringy-bearded Ledger plays such an over-the-top collection of twitters, insecurities and neuroses that while one applauds him for dropping any pretense at being a matinee icon (at least until he stars in “Casanova” later this year), you really have to decide whether his handling of Jake is just overkill. What’s-her-name as the huntress and supposed love interest is given nothing interesting to do, and succeeds. Jonathan Price is wasted as the local French leader, a littler Napoleon, and Peter Sormare plays very broadly — apropos for most Gilliam films — as the French heavy Caravaldi, but in the end, bad writing undoes whatever bombastic lure his character offered.
And here is what just kills me: In the enchanted forest, you’re expecting Gilliam to deliver magic. I mean, even if he can’t save a crappy script, he can surely provide isolated moments of cinematic beauty, especially given fairy tale settings and imagery, right? Um, no. Was this movie shot on a twenty dollar budget? ‘Cause the digital effects look like they cost about half that. And such shots as a small flock of large ravens lifting a man by his shoulders and sleeves to fly him up to a Rapunzel tower … that should be pure goddamned Gilliam magic, and there’s just nothing there. Gilliam fans will ache, as opportunity after opportunity to enchant is squandered.