THE BROTHERS GRIMM (Terry Gilliam, 2005)
In THE BROTHERS GRIMM the collectors of German fairy tales are recast as traveling swindlers who exploit villagers’ beliefs in local legends. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, played by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, put on an elaborate production to convince townsfolk that they have rid their area of curses, enchantments, and all other supernatural afflictions. The Grimms’ bluff gets called, though, when they are sent to Marbaden, where children are disappearing and the forest truly is haunted.
Whether battling with the studio or being defeated by Mother Nature, director Terry Gilliam often faces great difficulty in making films that match his visions. The upside of the turmoil is that the end result is usually a fascinating film. THE BROTHERS GRIMM is fascinating but only in the way that watching a good director misfire this badly can be. Gilliam has never been the tidiest of storytellers, but in working from Ehren Kruger’s screenplay, he wallows into a mess that feels as if significant chunks are missing. Parts of the original Grimm tales are cleverly worked in, frequently with the darker tones that get bowdlerized for the bedtime versions. Although likely restricted in budget, Gilliam’s visual imagination is as unlimited as ever, which is the only aspect of THE BROTHERS GRIMM that makes it remotely watchable. Occasionally some Pythonesque humor slips through, such as in a torture scene, but the tone and plot are so muddled and muddied that the audience is reduced to looking for those rays of light to stay engaged with the film.