Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Terry Gilliam's Depressing Fairy Tale: The Brothers Grimm

The Good: Excellent direction, Decent acting
The Bad: Pacing, Story, Little character development
The Basics: When two scam artists encounter real magic, it's a race of reason vs. witchcraft in Terry Gilliam's surprisingly average film.

When a writer/director creates the greatest film ever made, that person gets a lot of credit with me and I've pretty much bought a lifetime subscription to seeing that person's movies. That man is Terry Gilliam, writer and director of Brazil, to this day the most impressive, well-written, well-directed, all around best film I have ever experienced (and re-experienced many times). It's a surprise to me that it took me so long to watch The Brothers Grimm, given my love of Brazil and other Gilliam works, such as 12 Monkeys.

While Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm wander the woods throughout Germany in the 1790s scamming villagers out of money with their witch/ghoul/wood troll vanquishing service, the French authorities - occupying Germany at the time - have an eye on them. When children in a small village begin to disappear, the French administrator, Delatombe reasons that there are more scam artists like the Grimms operating in his jurisdiction. Delatombe conscripts the pair to out the con and thus make his place safe again.

Wilhelm and Jacob attempt to find the scam artist, but in the process discover real magic at work in the forest. The Grimms, with the aid of the cursed huntress Angelika, head off into the forest to confront the forces at work there.

Right off the bat, what works in this movie is the direction. Terry Gilliam has certainly not lost his touch for unique direction. He creates a fantasy world with simplicity and intrigue that is very pleasing to the eyes. In short, The Brothers Grimm is a very easy movie to watch. Sitting and watching this film is a delight to the senses. When everything is drab and dark, it oppresses the viewer very effectively. But then Gilliam changes it up with rich colors when things are magical and often when they are at their spookiest. He's a master in that way still.

As well, Jacob Grimm is an interesting character. The scholarly brother, Jacob is serious and devoted, curious and the viewer instantly gets the sense that he has been screwed out of the better things in life by the machinations of his brother. And while he certainly is in league with Wilhelm, Jacob is the brains, while his brother is the scam artist.

Throughout, The Brothers Grimm is filled with generally excellent performances. While Matt Damon does not give a memorable performance, the other stars do. Jonathan Pryce gives a wonderful supporting performance as the administrator Delatombe. He is funny and charming using just his eyes and the hint of a smirk. His supporting role does not allow him to dominate any scenes and he seems to realize that, keeping his performance subtle. Similarly, Monica Bellucci is brought in to play the Mirror Queen, a role that requires little in the way of acting, much in the way of looking gorgeous, which she does.

Lena Headey, however, is a woman whose role requires a great deal of dialogue and a lot of physical work. As Angelika, she is given the task of being a reasonable foil to Jacob and Wilhelm. Headey is articulate and genuine in her portrayal of Angelika, which sets her apart from the mumbling Damon quite well. And her performance often complements Heath Ledger's Jacob. Quite simply, she and Ledger work well on screen. As well, Headey seems up for the many physical tasks demanded of her by the part.

It is Heath Ledger who surprisingly is most engaging in his performance as Jacob Grimm. Ledger casts off his generic good looks for a beard and glasses and he portrays a man who always seems to be somewhere else, like a man rushing off somewhere at all times. Ledger plays the part with a believable cleverness that keeps the viewers attention and maintains focus on his arc.

Sadly, though, there's not much of an arc for any character here. This is a pretty straight up story after the premise is laid down. Despite the visual captivation Gilliam employs, there's not a great deal here that is engaging. The story unfolds like a typical fairy tale once it is revealed that there is no con involved. Once the world of magic enters play, everything falls along predictable lines, from the story to the characters to the resolution. In short, whatever character existed in the personas is eliminated in favor of the "type" they become in the roles demanded of those in fairy tales.

Sadly, that's enough to keep it out of the pantheon of great Terry Gilliam movies (it's down there with Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, though perhaps not that far down). This is like Gilliam for young adults, when they don't expect as much from him as those who appreciate Brazil and The Fisher King or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam has a gift, but his gift is in writing and directing his unique vision. Here he is directing a work written by Ehren Kruger and while its good, it's not Gilliam great.

Still, a disappointing Gilliam movie - which this is not as thoroughly unsatisfying as I found Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas to be - is better than 90% of other directors’ best works. I wanted to like this movie and I recommend it as popcorn fare on a Friday night, but it's not one to add to the permanent collection. And in the meantime, I'll cling to the greater fairy tale; waiting for Gilliam's next movie and hoping beyond anything it's closer to Brazil than this.

For other films by Terry Gilliam, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
12 Monkeys
The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen


For other movie reviews, please be sure to check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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