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BROTHERS GRIMM, THE (director: Terry Gilliam; screenwriter: Ehren Kruger/Tony Grisoni (uncredited); cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel; editor: Lesley Walker; music: Dario Marianelli; cast: Matt Damon (Wilhelm Grimm), Heath Ledger (Jacob Grimm), Peter Stormare (Cavaldi), Lena Headey (Angelika), Jonathan Pryce (French general Delatombe), Monica Bellucci (Mirror Queen); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Daniel Bobker/Charles Roven; Dimension Films; 2005)
“Gilliam is inspired by the sibling writers, it seems, so he could deliver a goofy comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The only American member of Monthy Python, Terry Gilliam (“Brazil”/”Time Bandits”/”The Fisher King”/”Jabberwocky”/”Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-1998”), offers his first flick in seven years as a mainstream venture (from someone with a rep for being anti-mainstream) that feels like a compromised work (his differences with the Brothers Weinstein over this project have been widely reported though he went off to work on another film, Tideland, and returned to finish this one saying he’s happy with it–despite no big nose for Damon as he wanted but not okay-ed by the Miramax money men). This big budget feast ($80 million biopic) is a mess in excess, a maximal work showing off the director’s inventive skills as both a blessing and a curse (great creepy European period atmosphere scenes, but a story that is unfocused and seems hopelessly lost in an enchanted forest of its own making). The film never seems more than tedious and in the midst of a free-fall while never establishing what it’s driving at. It only uses the famous Grimm Brothers, folklorists of fairy-tale legend (known for classics such as “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Tom Thumb” and “Little Red Riding Hood”), to propel Gilliam to give his own take on their real-life. Gilliam is inspired by the sibling writers, it seems, so he could deliver a goofy comedy (I might add a lame one, something one would expect in a B film!).

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger (“Reindeer Games”/”The Ring”/”The Skelton Key”), who has never produced a script I came close to liking, fashions the story around the brothers as clever con artists who travel through the French-occupied German villages of the early 19th-century making a good living feeding off the superstitions of the peasants by exorcizing demons with some stagy demos put on by their thespian helpers. The brothers sport Brit accents and are played by a miscast Matt Damon as the skeptical Wilhelm Grimm and Heath Ledger, also miscast but not as much as Damon, as the nerdy more susceptible Jacob Grimm, someone who has a need to believe in magic.

The heart of the film involves the brothers encountering, at last, a real chance for them to use their proclaimed ghost-busting abilities to save 12 missing girls (Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel’s Greta among them) in a German village that is surrounded by a real enchanted forest. Woodsman’s daughter Angelika (Lena Headey), who has two missing sisters in the bunch, guides the brothers into the forest and then leaves them to their own devices. The brothers discover a castle in the forest that houses the long living evil witch (Monica Bellucci), who is responsible for grabbing the kiddies. Also showing their faces are the despotic but rational French general Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), sent there by Napolean, and his Italian mercenary henchman Cavaldi (Peter Stormare). The foppish military governor knows the siblings are frauds but figures so are the stories about the enchanted forest, so he doesn’t have much to lose sending them in–believing it takes a crook to catch one. Delatombe orders the reluctant con men to go into the forest or he will kill them, and sends his henchman along to make sure things go right and the villagers are calmed down so village life can return to normal. Pryce offers a strictly fromage performance, while Stormare settles for a prosciutto one.

It’s a big, noisy, fairy-tale story within a fairy-tale that is loaded down with props, grand costumes, magical trees, and enough images tossed around that even a few stick with you. It had everything but a good story and the right actors (the only funny thing about Damon was trying to keep track of him handling his wig and Brit accent). What eventually turned me completely off was the smugness it had over its modest achievements for its visual trickery, which could never make up for the director’s lack of vision or incoherent way of telling a story.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”