Although it has some interesting touches The Brothers Grimm is not the film it should have been.
Terry Gilliam’s first film in 7 years sounded almost too good to be true. One of the most inventive film makers of his generation making a film about the Brothers Grimm had the potential to be a dazzling visual and storytelling feast. Unfortunatley, it wasn’t to be. Judging from recent interviews with Gilliam it seems that creative differences with the films backers (Miramax, making the film through their Dimension arm) wrecked the project almost before it had started filming.
Things got so bad that production was even shut down for several months – a hiatus during which Gilliam even shot another film – only before compromises were finally reached. Compromised is probably the best way to describe the final result. Gilliam’s ideas are visible but they are too often stifled by a confusing and uneven narrative.
The central conceit here is that Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) were not academics but con-men who travelled around Napoleonic Europe conducting fake exorcisms and swindling gullible locals. When they are caught by the local authorities, led by General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), they are offered clemency if they solve the mysterious disappearance of young children in a local village.
Under the supervision of a sadistic Italian soldier named Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) the brothers have to deal with a forest that is actually haunted and a spell cast on the village by a witch (Monica Bellucci) who lives in a mysterious tower. Despite being aided by a local huntswoman (Lena Headey) they struggle to deal with the curse and the real life magic that now confronts them.
Whilst The Brothers Grimm is often good to look at and enjoyable in parts it suffers badly from a rushed and fractured narrative that at times seems to be firing off in several directions. These jumps are not helped by the uneasy shifts in tone, personified by some of the performances. The Brothers themselves are engaging but the supporting characters veer from the dour (Headey) to the wildly over the top (Pryce and Stormare).
Added to this are some scenes that are let down by some substandard effects – a dodgy CGI wolf sticks out as the low point. Another negative side effect of the disjointed way things unfold is the way in which the references to fairytales are integrated into the plot. Often they seem to be throwaway references and given Jacob’s insistence on taking notes it would have been nice to see how events in this fictional plot could have inspired or shaped them as storytellers.
However, despite the obvious flaws there are still thing to admire. Damon in particular reveals a nice comic touch as the more straight-laced brother and together with ledger they make an engaging pair. Added to this the production design nicely evokes the period and there are some wonderfully dark moments that possibly reveal the more Gothic direction Gilliam may have originally intended.
A sequence in the forest where the branches become viciously alive and a sequence involving the terrible transformation of a child are gripping and tap into the dark sense of wonder that is so often at the heart of the Grimm’s tales. Perhaps a future director’s cut will reveal what Gilliam wanted to do but until then one can only lament the missed opportunity of this film and hope someone will soon allow him the creative freedom he deserves.
> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the trailer
> Set photos at IGN Film Force
> Gilliam fan site with extensive links on the film including a revealing in-depth interview on the problems behind the scenes
> Wikipedia entry for the real Brothers Grimm