223 – The Brothers Grimm

Like most people who grew up on stuff like The Minister of Silly Walks and Crunchy Frog, I like Terry Gilliam, and I appreciate his colorful imagination. I enjoyed Baron Munchausen and The Fisher King. Even when his movies haven’t been terribly good (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), they were interesting, to say the least.

I really can’t say for the unfortunate Brothers Grimm, a movie that simply has an identity crisis. Does it want to be a purveyor of broad (Pythonesque) comedy? Or subtle, sophisticated wit? Or maybe a melodrama, or a romance? I was never sure how to take the movie. And that’s fine if the movie in question can pull off being in several genres at once, as with some of Gilliam’s earlier works, but that’s really not the case here.

Jacob and Will Grimm (Heath Ledger and Matt Damon) are con artists in the 18th century; they take advantage of local legends and fairy tales, swooping in to save the day and make a boatload of money in French-occupied Germany. But then their scam is discovered by the French, in the person of General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) who says he’ll spare the lads’ lives if they rid a village of a REAL problem, the disappearance of several young girls.

But the village’s forest, it turns out, really IS enchanted, and events that closely resemble folk tales (including the Gingerbread Man, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood) unfold around the hapless con artists. They can’t flee, because the French army wants to capture and torture them, and of course there’s a love interest (Lena Headey) to keep them around.

Gilliam’s sets are, as always, quite inventive and fun to watch, but it appears he forgot about such nuances as plot advancement and plausibility. The Brothers seem about as intelligent as the Duke boys, if you catch my drift, except without any of the gregarious appeal. This is at least partly due to the ambiguity of the lead characters – are they supposed to be lovable buffoons, hoisted by their own petards, or all-around jerks only in it for themselves?

Ledger and Damon seem to be miscast, as neither supplies the gravitas that the movie sorely needed. It’s like watching a buddy cop film while heavily sedated; at nearly two hours, the movie plods along as if terrified of a denoument, even though the ending (and all secrets contained therein) were painfully obvious after the first hour).

I think it would have been fun to see this movie as more of a Holy Grail homage, complete with toothless old hags declaring curses and such. But somewhere between that 1975 opus and this dreadful, toothless waste, Gilliam lost his sense of humor.

The Brothers Grimm:*1/2

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