The Brothers Grimm (2005)Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening sequences and brief suggestive material.
Starring Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, Lena Headey, Jonathan Pryce, Monica Bellucci.
LVJeff's Rating: 7/10
Photo ©Dimension Films. All rights reserved.
Fantasy Tale: Take Two
When we last left Terry GIlliam, he was looking oh-so-very sad. As seen in the documentary Lost in La Mancha, Gilliam had his heart set on making a movie about Don Quixote. From the behind-the-scenes look, it had the makings of a fantasy extravaganza. Alas, due to several turns of hard luck involving everything from the lead actor's health to unfriendly weather, the project eventually had to be abandoned.
Now Gilliam has completed his next venture, The Brothers Grimm. It's also a fantasy movie, and it probably had extravaganza status in mind at the outset as well, but it may have to settle with fun fantasy curiosity. This time our heroes are none other than The Brothers Grimm themselves: Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger). The film chronicles a fictional time before these siblings became the famous fairy tale writers, when instead they spun fairy tales to fool superstitious villagers into hiring their services as a sort of medieval "Ghostbusters." The movie relates what happens when they eventually take on an assignment that's actually real, when they face a foe who uses genuine magic.
Gilliam's movie is trademark wacky and weird, with that dry yet overplayed sense of humor that exaggerates eccentricities at the expense of common sense. In other words, it's all good fun, and it also barely feels like it's kept in control. The characters, particularly the villains played by Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare, are outlandish -- almost too outlandish, really, but delightfully unique just the same. They're contrasted with Lena Headey's feisty female lead, and charming Damon and thoughtful Ledger as the bickering brothers with a neon-sign-lit conflict -- Jacob, the idealist, believes in magical tales, while Will, the realist, insists that he wake up while harboring a resentment for having to constantly look after him.
None of this is very subtle -- it's all quite loud and there's a lot of yelling and crashing going on, along with some pretty funny gags and some computer-generated visual effects that aren't as seamless as one might hope. Just the same, one appreciates the efforts of Gilliam almost solely for the lunacy of his vision. It creates a few memorable scenarios you'd likely never see anywhere else -- one particularly energetic scene involves a child who is swallowed by a horse. However, the vision here is presented without much heft -- unlike, say, the satire of Brazil or the emotional weights of 12 Monkeys, there's really not much to The Brothers Grimm other than its wide-eyed fantasticness. There's no insight, for example, into how the brothers' fantasy creations filled the populace's need for horror and myths (historically speaking or not), and how those myths inherit the ability to resound throughout time.
Instead, we're given a glimpse of potential themes -- Damon and Ledger display a dynamic that, at many times, felt all too familiar as the push-and-pull of the bond of brotherly love. Exasperation with one of your closest kin comes from deep concern for him, and this is a theme that seems like it's just waiting to break through in The Brothers Grimm. But, played against the movie's simple storyline, the brothers' personal conflict stands out as a bit too mechanical, conspicuous in its black-and-white setup. This doesn't mean the movie can't be enjoyed for what it is, and it certainly can be appreciated as a throwback to those old 80s fantasies, to which this movie might owe much of its environment and look. It just could've been more -- but, maybe after the Don Quixote disaster, we should all just be glad it even exists at all.
©Jeffrey Chen, Jul. 26, 2005