I’ve been a big fan of director Terry Gilliam for a long time, but THE BROTHERS GRIMM is the worst thing he made since his terrible solo (i.e., non-Monty Python) debut, JABBERWOCKY. The script by Ehren Krueger is terrible: the story is muddled, confused, leaden, and uninteresting. And Gilliam’s patented visual style only makes things worse, weighing everything down, dragging out dull scenes with excess flash that only reminds us how empty and unimaginative this fantasy film is.
The special effects are a near disaster. Gone is the hands-made approach of previous Gilliam films, which not only looked good but suited his overall visual style, lending his fantasies a distinctive touch of personality. Instead, we get lame, impersonal digital work – which is bad enough, but much of it is also totally unconvincing. In fact, the CGI is so phony you keep thinking, “Well, it’s supposed to be like a fairly tale, so it doesn’t have to be realistic.”
However, the tone of THE BROTHERS GRIMM is decidedly not a fairy tale at all. It’s filled with severed heads, bisected bodies, and other repellent violence. The whole thing is so goofy that the gore doesn’t really horrify; it just feels repulsive because it’s so out-of-place and inappropriate. The film starts off as if it wants to be a light-hearted romp, then turns murky, muddy, and uglier by the second.
The stars keep acting as if the whole thing is good fun, but they can’t convince us, no matter how hard they try. Jonathan Pryce (who appeared in previous Gilliam films BRAZIL and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN) gives it his best shot, but it’s a hopeless effort. And Peter Stormare is tedious in a supporting role. Long before THE BROTHERS GRIMM is over, you will wish the whole thing had come to a merciful end.
It’s not hard to see why the subject matter might have interested Gilliam: THE BROTHERS GRIMM offers another collision of fantasy and reality, with lots of opportunities for interesting visuals. But the lead characters in this story (unlike TIME BANDITS, etc.) are not imaginative dreamers; they’re con men who exploit people’s beliefs in myths and legends. So Pryce’s character (basically a reprise of his villainous voice-of-reason martinet from MUNCHAUSEN) doesn’t work very well as an antagonist, because he’s basically right. Consequently, it’s impossible to identify deeply with the story or care how it turns out.
If this is the best that Hollywood will let Gilliam do, he should just quit making Hollywood films. I know he dreams big and wants the budgets to see those dreams realized, but this isn’t worth it. The only redeeming feature is the hope that his salary from THE BROTHERS GRIM will help him set up a good, old-fashioned Gilliam film, in the tradition of his excellent early work.
THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005). Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Ehren Kruger. Cast: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, Jonathan Pryce, Lena Headey, Monica Bellucci.
Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski