The Brothers Grimm
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Forget any other reviews you've already read or heard about this film. It is definitely worth a trip to the theater, even if it is at a discount house (where it will end up too quickly I'm afraid). There is really only one thing I did not like about this film, but I'll wait a bit before revealing that, and even though it is a weakness it is not a crippling one.
Is there a director working today less understood, more underrated or seemingly more cursed than Gilliam? My answer to that has to be a definite NO! It is my opinion that the word genius is bandied about too easily these days, especially when it comes to popular entertainments. Very few actually deserve such an accolade, but Gilliam is one of them. Yet he still labors under the restrictions of an industry and its chroniclers who do not understand him and his brilliant mind.
Forget for a minute that most of Gilliam's films are full of unattractive people shot from weird angles or perspectives. Forget that his narratives are rarely linear. Rather, when you are watching a Gilliam film, try to recall some of your own dreams, those crazy concoctions of the unconscious mind. Recall how you felt about fairy tales and legends when you first heard them as a child. Gilliam, just like Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, understands that myths and legends tell as much, if not more, about a culture than does its traditional histories. This film is not an historical account of the way the Grimms collected and preserved German oral tradition. Yes, the two main characters happen to bear their names, but the way their familiar tales are interwoven into the film's narrative is chaotic and haphazard, not at all like the way you will have remembered them being told.
The first reference is to Jack and the Beanstalk, yet in this version it would have to be called Jacob and the Beanstalk, as it is the younger Brother Grimm (Ledger) who returns to the family cottage with supposedly magic beans gained in trade for the family cow in hopes they will prove a cure for his ailing sister. (Actually, Jacob was the elder of the two but this story reverses that fact for some reason.) The ridicule and disdain Wilhelm (Damon) feels then for his brother is echoed many times throughout the film. Jacob is the one who has faith that many of the stories they hear are real, at least to some extent, whereas his older brother is the practical one, realizing their poor countrymen are suckers for his schemes to gain money from them for ridding their villages of witches, ghosts and goblins. And since he is sure those threats do not actually exist, it is up to him and his brother to produce them in order to drive them out.
Other characters we meet along the way include Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, and other stories referenced in obscure ways range from Cinderella, the Princess and the Pea and Rapunzel. As it turns out, there really is an evil curse on one of the villages they visit. Young girls have gone missing in the spooky woods nearby, and it is up to Will and Jake to solve the mystery, and luckily they have the help of an experienced guide and tracker, the lovely Angelika (Heady), whose two younger sisters are among the missing.
In the various reviews I have read, several mentions were made of the uneven and inferior CGI effects in the film. I kept waiting for those, but I got through the entire film without seeing anything I didn't think was well done. This is supposedly Gilliam's highest budget yet, and I believe it is all readily visible on screen. The sets, costuming, and visual effects are very impressive in my opinion, so I can't understand the negative reporting about them.
As I said earlier, there is one thing I did not like, and that was the decision for several of the actors to have very pronounced accents. Jonathan Pryce plays a French general, and Peter Stormare is an Italian aide in his employ. Many of their lines were difficult to understand, and yet Damon, Ledger and Heady did not exhibit German accents. Perhaps this was done just to obviously differentiate the characters and make it apparent the ones that should not be given much respect. I'm not sure, but I think it was a mistake.
As for the overall point to the film, I saw it as a veiled reference to Gilliam's career as a whole. Jacob represents the director, the one who believes in fairy tales and the power of the heart over the restrictions of a logical mind. Wilhelm is all those in power who have no imagination of their own, whose only defense is to ridicule and criticize those with the true talent. There is another Gilliam film that I have high hopes is completed one day, concerning Don Quixote. Gilliam has had many encounters tilting at windmills over the years, and The Brothers Grimm proves to be one of those battles in which I think he was victorious.
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