The Brothers Grimm

Cuts and slices every fairytale of note or half your money back!

Released in 2005, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 07 Nov 2005 by Scott Morris
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Okay, now I'm starting to feel picky. Having wittered on at some lengths at the lack of originality in the multiplexes (mulitiplii?) of late, seemingly everything being a comic book adaptation, a boilerplate horror, needless remake or piece of rancid flotsam, The Brothers Grimm would seem to be something of a godsend. With Terry Gilliam behind the megaphone, he of the laudable, Brazil, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Twelve Monkeys (monkii? I guess not.), Monty Python including track record, this would have seemed to be our best hope (live action anyway, Corpse Bride and Wallace and Gromit get honourable, welcome exclusions) for something original, something striking, something good.

As it happens, The Brothers Grimm is fairly striking, sort of original, but only 'kind of' good, and even that feels as though I'm granting it special favours. Dashing bullshit merchant Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) and his bookish brother Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) are frauds. Setting themselves up as ghostbusters extraordinare, they charge handsome sums in towns around French occupied Germany to remove the awful apparitions that their partners Hidlick (Mackenzie Crook) and Bunst (Richard Ridings) have set up by clever systems of pulleys, springboards, shiny things and make up. While this rampant charlatanary hasn't gone unnoticed by the Commander of the French forces, Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) and his semi-competent Italian lieutenant torturer Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), a blind eye is turned as long as no-one is physically hurt.

Now, folks are. A small village reports children being abducted, seemingly drawn into the surrounding forest and taken by supernatural forces. Delatombe suspects others using methods similar to the Grimms' as the cause of the trouble and offers them a choice - find those responsible or be killed. Heading into the forest with local outcast trapper Angelika (Lena Headey), who is on the order of a thousand times braver and honourable than the Grimm duo and herself out to find her younger sisters, they discover that the stories they've been using to con folks with may not be quite as fanciful as they assumed.

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Facing off against a wicked Witch Queen (Monica Bellucci), werewolves, a living forest and elements of nigh on every fairy tale ever told, there's certainly no shortage of content in The Brothers Grimm. That's the main problem really, as everything feels rather crammed as reference after reference is shoehorned on to a big heap of folklore that amounts to nothing more cohesive than said big heap. It's trying very hard to be something more than it ends up being, but it all ends up so horribly forced that it feels like something of a chore to watch it.

It does have a few plus points however, and perhaps the main one is the rehabilitation of Heath Ledger. Seemingly unhappy with the roles he was being offered, and on the basis of The Sin Eater that's easily believed, he's been looking to almost reboot his career. As such you can see the drive to remind people that he's actually quite a good actor, handling a difficult role convincingly in an accent not his own. It's a sympathetic and eminently watchable turn, and does him great credit.

Matt Damon has nothing to prove, which is just as well. Not his fault I suppose, he's dropped squarely into the 'unsympathetic asshole' role early doors so for perhaps the first half of the film we're not supposed to like him. So maybe he's doing his job after all. Anyway, it's not exactly the standout turn from his admittedly strong C. V. Everyone else is certainly there, apart from Monica Bellucci who is there and is pretty. Lena Headey is not only there, and is pretty, but also acts quite well. Which is nice.

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The Brothers Grimm is rather like an eight year old child that constantly demands that you pay attention to them because they insist that they're doing something really clever; it's rather tiring to watch even if it does do a few clever things while you're babysitting it. I don't like writing reviews like this. I feel I ought to be patting it on the back rather than sticking a knife in it. Were I in a better mood, or just a nicer person, I'd at least give this points for trying. Sadly it's become another victim of 'The Year of Mediocrity?', especially disappointing from a director (and mostly writer, heavily but uncredited-ly modifying Ehren Kruger's original script) who we know can do far better and a cast who never seem to really gel.

I'm not sure what's more upsetting, the quality of the film presented to us or the thought that it could have been so much more. Oddly it seems that Gilliam is more interested in channeling Tim Burton than going his own way, which is really, really odd given the usual identity Gilliam imprints on his films. It's still there, just ... lessened somehow. Frankly the snowflake rating given here is more harsh than it deserves, despite the odd section that drags, despite the ideas that don't pan out, despite the cast that occasionally looks disinterested, despite all this it's still a reasonably competent and interesting film, but there's just too many 'despite's in there to call it anything more than mediocre. I'm truly sorry.

Oh, and in an unexpected development The Brothers Grimm equals the honking Cursed for 'Shittiest CG Werewolf effects'. Who'd have thunk it?

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Terry Gilliam
Cast list:
Matt Damon (Wilhelm Grimm)
Heath Ledger (Jacob Grimm)
Mackenzie Crook (Hidlick)
Richard Ridings (Bunst)
Peter Stormare (Cavaldi)
Jonathan Pryce (Delatombe)
Lena Headey (Angelika)
Monica Bellucci (Mirror Queen)