At The Movies With FALnet

The Brothers Grimm

Director: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Matt Damon, Heath Leger, Monica Bellucci, Jonathan Pryce...
IMDB link

by Chris Grill

Fairy tales for adults - there's only one American director to call, really. We make no claim of objectivity where Terry Gilliam is concerned, and both the look and storyboarding of "The Brothers Grimm" maketh not ashamed. Money problems and power struggles at the studios have taken their toll, but the wounds are not mortal. MGM went up for auction before the film was completed, and Miramax changed the release date a few times before they split from Disney - but at long last we have the result of the $80 million investment in the supremely off-kilter worldview of Mr. Gilliam, filmed entirely in Prague.

Matt and Heath, as the fraternal duoMatt Damon (with an unadulterated nose) and Heath Ledger play Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm (respectively, but not spectacularly). They swindle ignorant townsfolk in 1811 Germany with theatrics and early beginnings of F/X until they're arrested and sent to investigate the maidens which are missing in the treacherous forest of Marbaden. These actors are engaging enough, I guess. It could be excessive exposure but I never forgot I was watching actors act. As our favorite horror host pointed out, consider what Mr. Gilliam did with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys - how they suceeded. Unfortunately that didn't quite happen again. Not to get too nit-picky about accents (what with the Australian actor sounding more like a Scot, which is still less distracting than the soft, Hollywoodized amalgam issuing forth from Mr. Damon) but it's an example that tends to confirm my initial confusion about why these men were over the title in a period project, here. In addition there's a lot of ground to be covered, so the character development is about all that could be expected.

A clever combination of details from their stories make it clear that the brothers have come upon a "real" fairy tale. No one celebrates old technology (or truly odd methods of torture) quite like Mr. Gilliam. It may be that I missed something, but there seemed to be a corporeal agent being employed in all of the strange events - be they trees, spiders, birds, even mud - except when Gretel is lured into a trap by her suddenly animate scarf. Well, it's magic... and as the source becomes clear, the brothers disagree on their course of action.

The pacing of the film improves from act to act. I prefer to credit the director for this, rather than writer Ehren Kruger - who's rather hot right now, despite Reindeer Games. (It was nice to hear "mooncalf" used, though.) The original music by Dario Marianelli isn't quite as wonderful as the usual output from Danny Elfman, but it has its stirring moments.

Production design and set decoration are awe-inspiring, thanks to Guy Dyas - a fine addition to his already impressive portfolio. It's easy to see he's worked with Tim Burton too, and the crucial combination of magical and concrete worlds is a huge success. Some of the CG special effects are quite "abrupt," and this seemed intentional to me - in some places, particularly those involving a wolf - but wider shots with wind and fire were impressive.

Monica Bellucci - from Mary Magdele to Mirror Queen.Who really shines in "The Brothers Grimm?" The women certainly do - Lena Headey as Angelika and Monica Bellucci as the Mirror Queen make one wish for "The Sisters Grimm." They're riveting here... but for unmitigated scene-stealing, look to a couple of the most underrated actors around. Peter Stormare brings Cavaldi to life with such ease. Does this guy ever fail to deliver? I was waiting for a change of heart to play out for the brothers' benefit.

No such decency would be ever found in this movie's standout - the invaluable Jonathan Pryce. Thoroughly rotten and at ease, he trumps in every one of his scenes as the amoral General Delatombe. Other projects have displayed his unusual range, but here we find a serene, depraved scoundrel in power. Someone throw a bunch of awards at these two men already.

I'd like to think that this isn't too cerebral or "historical" to reach the big audience Mr. Gilliam has already earned. Maybe the star power will carry the day. This is not a movie for toddlers, and the tone is not sunny. But it provokes reflection on "how far we've come," and heaven knows we can use more of that. A sequel (by another writer) could be worth seeing. It must be admitted that "The Brothers Grimm" is no Brazil, but nothing else is either. Do something nice for your imagination and check out "Grimm's Household Tales" to appreciate the ambitiousness of this film, a pleasing project with vision in the midst of the generally soulless assortment of strip-mall pap now playing everywhere.

copyright 2008