Aug. 31, 2005 - Issue #515: Megadeth
Terry Gilliam's take on The Brothers Grimm's titlular duo
less than legendary
It must be hard to be an artist. Any attempt to earn a decent living leads to accusations of “selling out.” But really: Terry Gilliam, the idiosyncratic director of Time Bandits and Brazil, at the helm of a Hollywood blockbuster?
To be fair, The Brothers Grimm isn’t exactly your typical bombs-and-bombshells fare. It isn’t a terribly ambitious film, though, and not what the world was hoping from the next Gilliam film. Dreamy Jakob (Heath Ledger) and practical Will (Matt Damon) are 18th-century con artists who prey on the superstitious fears of Bavarian villagers, rigging up witches and then charging an exorbitant fee to rid the towns of these unholy devils. The pair, though, falls afoul of the French, who have conquered the area and are trying to stamp out the superstitious traditional stories. General Delatombe (an over-the-top Jonathan Pryce) threatens torture and imprisonment, but he sets them free, on condition that they catch another tricky team, more swindlers who are terrorizing a nearby town. But is this a fraud or is it (cue the ominous music) the real thing?
The battle is on: scientific rationalism versus faith. Will sides with Delatombe’s explanation, exclaiming over the special effects as a tree lifts its roots and walks towards him. But Jakob, long held in thrall by the wonder of folk tales, begins to believe. While this is an interesting idea, Gilliam never bothers to explore it fully, preferring to substitute image for ideas. And it isn’t a terrible plan, for a while, and the curse starts out eerily enough: a few shifting trees here, a child’s cloak fluttering there. But the film quickly degenerates into a CGI mess. A boy loses his eyes and teeth when a pile of mud turns into a cookie cutout, which then jumps around, exclaiming “Can’t catch me!” It’s imaginative, sure, but the images wander all over the place, without a single connecting thread.
A further problem arises in the lovely Angelika (Lena Headey), a woman so beautiful that it’s amazing the villagers don’t fall down and worship her, much less label her, as they do, “accursed.” This is the heroine of the fairy tales, a liberated Cinderella who hunts and traps for herself. Unfortunately, the woman’s behaviour is so odd that it’s hard to take her seriously. Lost in the woods, she licks a toad to help her find her way. This may be a reference to “The Frog Prince,” or hallucinogenic frogs, but the allusion is never quite clear.
Nevertheless, one bat of Angelika’s baby browns and Jakob is smitten. Angelika, though, seems more swayed by Will, casting sidelong glances his way, which Jake does not fail to notice. This plot twist, though, is left by the wayside. Angelika hooks up with neither of them and, in any case, doesn’t last long as a love interest; after about halfway through the film, she’s rarely seen onscreen with the brothers. Instead, there’s an enchanted queen (Monica Bellucci, oddly cast as an ancient German ruler with a French accent), condemned for her vanity to eternal life as an aging crone. She spends much of her time trying to recapture her beauty and ensnare men to be her king.
This is the central story, but it arrives way too late. And, by that time, the audience is a bit lost in all the scene shifting and fairy tale references that are made. The Brothers Grimm is not a great movie, but the real crime is that it’s an ordinarily bad movie from a director who could have made a great, or even better, an interesting film. V
The Brothers Grimm
Directed by Terry Gilliam • Written by Ehren Kruger • Starring Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Jonathan Pryce and Lena Headey • Now playing
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