The Brothers Grimm


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

The Brothers Grimm
"The true fault lies with the script, which brings no life to the real, or indeed fantasy, characters."

In 1811, the romantic scholar Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) and his more cynical brother Will (Matt Damon) travel through Germany as con artists, staging supernatural hauntings, which they then dispel in return for money and celebrity. General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), leader of the French occupying forces, has the brothers arrested, but offers them amnesty on condition that they unmask whoever is responsible for a series of child abductions in backwoods Marbaden.

Under the watchful eye of freelance torturer Mercurio Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), the pair comes to realise that the village's forest is genuinely enchanted. With the help of the local cursed guide (and love interest) Angelika (Lena Headey), "Team Grimm" must discover what links the missing children to an axe wielding, shapeshifting woodsman (Tomas Hanak) and a sometimes-beautiful queen (Monica Bellucci), living atop a tower with no entrance. And with the Blood Moon rising and the last victim in place, time is running out for the brothers to engineer a happy ending.

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Two venal siblings wrestle with a force of enchantment far more powerful than anything they have ever imagined. This is not only the story told in The Brothers Grimm, but also the story of its production. After the project was abandoned by MGM, brother-producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein rode in to its rescue, only to come up against the creative whirlwind that is Terry Gilliam, whose way with magic has already been proved in Brazil (1985), The Fisher King (1991), Twelve Monkeys (1995) and other, similarly idiosyncratic projects. In the conflict of visions that ensued (including differences over the original script, the principal casting, Matt Damon's make-up and the whole character of the film) everyone appears to have become lost in the dark woods, hoping somehow to find their way out with an incoherent trail of compromises.

At one point Will declares to Angelika: "Nothing makes sense here; it's like being in Jacob's head." Sure enough, where other biopics claim to be based on a true story, The Brothers Grimm is a pastiche of the brothers' own fairytales, with a similar blend of supernatural surrealism and macabre terror. The grotesquery of Marbaden's denizens and the absurd national stereotyping of Cavaldi and Delatombe could all come straight out of Gilliam's Monty Python period, while a flying witch and some aggressively animated trees owe a considerable debt to the Evil Dead series. At the same time, elaborate effects and CGI place the film somewhere between The Frighteners and Van Helsing. Yet somehow the film's parts never quite congeal into a satisfying whole. The genuine gothic creepiness of the abduction sequences sits uneasily with the broad pantomime comedy of other scenes, while the whole thing is infected with a lack of cogent characterisation and a piecemeal approach to narrative.

There is a temptation to blame much of this on the Weinsteins' decision to cast Headey in the pivotal role of Angelika, over Gilliam's choice of Samantha Morton. Yet, one can only wonder if Ms Morton, for all her talents, could have brought much improvement to a part that seems no more (or less) one-dimensional than any of the others. The true fault lies with the script, which brings no life to the real, or indeed fantasy, characters. Dissatisfied from the start with the screenplay of writer-for-hire Ehren (The Ring) Kruger, Gilliam and his regular collaborator Tony Grisoni did extensive rewrites, and when refused a proper writing credit by the Writers' Guild of America, adopted for themselves the joke title of Dress Pattern Makers instead. If nothing else, this is an honest reflection of the screenplay's patchwork texture, where, unfortunately, all the stitches show.

The post-production was so beset with problems (and arguments) that Gilliam was able to leave the deadlocked process for eight whole months to direct a more modest production from scratch, before returning to edit both films simultaneously. Let's just hope Tideland, with its lower budget and relative lack of interference from producers, will be something of a return to form after the disappointingly empty spectacle that is The Brothers Grimm.

Reviewed on: 03 Nov 2005
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The Brothers Grimm packshot
Bogus ghostbusters finally meet their match in a genuine enchanted forest.
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Read more The Brothers Grimm reviews:

Darren Amner ***1/2
John Gallagher ***
Angus Wolfe Murray *

Director: Terry Gilliam

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Starring: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci, Lena Headey, Peter Stormare, Jonathan Pryce

Year: 2005

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US/Czech Republic


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