The Brothers Grimm

    One may say that Terry Gilliam is a very unlucky man, particularly when
it comes to directing feature films. He enjoyed early success as the sole
American member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python and co-directed
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (which has now inspired a hit
Broadway musical
SPAMALOT). Since then, his work has been visually
inspiring and he has produced some minor classics like
BRAZIL. The latter was the beginning of his troubles with Hollywood.
Instead of the bleak ending he had originally shot, the producers opted for
a more standard “happy” ending. After much Sturm and Drang, his version
was released (without a key line of dialogue, however) and critics proclaimed
it one of the best films of 1985. But
BRAZIL was still a box-office
disappointment, as were several of his following movies.
THE ADVENTURES OF  BARON MUNCHAUSEN underwent a very publicly
troubled production, but at least that got completed. His aborted project
THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE fell victim to an injured actor, among
other problems. (For an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at that movie,
check out the documentary
LOST IN LA MANCHA). So it may come as
no surprise that
THE BROTHERS GRIMM also had some difficulties. The
studio insisted on replacing the director of photography and wouldn’t
approve the actress Gilliam had wanted for the lead, among other issues.
The finished film is still visually stunning, if somewhat hampered by some

    Ehren Kruger’s screenplay for
intriguing idea: that before they wrote down their famous children’s stories,
the siblings traveled about Germany (including much of what was in French
hands) and gathered the basics from the local legends. Jacob (Heath Ledger)
and Wilhelm (Matt Damon) Grimm are presented as a team of early
19th-century ghost busters. They travel to a rural spot, listen to the
residents as they recount their horror stories, and then stage a scene
wherein they “defeat” whatever ghostly creature is threatening the area.
In return for their efforts, they are paid lucratively in gold. All the while,
the bookish Jacob is taking notes for the future fairy tales.

    Gilliam has proven a terrific teller of fantasy stories, so on paper, he
was the perfect match for the material. Some of the set pieces are superbly
shot and staged, yet one key sequence, wherein a child is turned into a
sort of mud creature, is marred by the cheesy special effects.

    The brothers are sent to investigate what is considered to be an
enchanted forest as well to find out why several young girls have recently
disappeared. The joke is that these con artists who usually stage
“enchantments” find themselves confronting the real thing.

    I enjoyed the high concept of the film, but the performances are a
mixed bag. Ledger is fine as the quiet, more intellectual brother, but Damon,
an actor whose work I generally admire, falters badly. His accent waivers
from British to American to something in-between and he seems at sea
trying to create a character. Jonathan Pryce does a nice job as a pompous
French soldier who sends the brothers off to investigate a real mystery,
but Peter Stormare as an Italian sidekick to Pryce has been encouraged to
over-emote. His performance, with its exaggerated accent and equally
overwrought movements is very painful to watch.

    While Gilliam reportedly wanted Samantha Morton to play the
female lead – a huntress with folkloric knowledge of the area -- he
instead cast Lena Headey. The actress is a gorgeous woman and has done
some fine work in the past (see
ABERDEEN) but here she doesn’t seem
quite up to the task. Monica Bellucci as the villainous Queen of the Forest
has obviously been cast as much for her natural beauty as for her
acting abilities.

    There are some wonderful sequences in the film, but overall it doesn’t
really cohere. Kruger’s script is inventive, Gilliam’s direction is on target,
but something has been lost in the editing room. It may be that after all
the struggles with the studio executives, the director just gave up and
produced something ordinary rather than something extraordinary.

Rating:              C
MPAA Rating:     PG-13 violence, frightening sequences
                                                    and brief suggestive material
Running time:    118 mins.

                      Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.