‘The Brothers Grimm’ best in paperback, not big screen
There’s only one difference I’ve found between director Terry Gilliam’s good movies and his bad ones.Mayhem, bizarre accents, more bizarre costumes and, usually, time travel seem to be givens for Gilliam. What distinguishes his better movies from his others seems to be a surface tension that holds all the noise and chaos together and makes the movies palatable. When it’s there, you get something above the omnipresent chatter, such as “Twelve Monkeys.” When it’s not, you get babble like “The Brothers Grimm.”There’s no time travel here, but that might be the only thing missing: “The Brothers Grimm” is a cacophony of words, deeds and ideas that touches on everything from fairy tales to geopolitics. It’s so overstuffed it feels like a breathless sprint through history, myth and folklore. It focuses on German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm (Heath Ledger and Matt Damon, respectively). To the movie’s credit, Damon and Ledger at least look – and act – like siblings. Damon plays Will as the domineering older brother, while Ledger ditches his glam-boy demeanor to play Jake as a marble-mouthed dreamer. A too-quick flashback at the beginning of the movie oversimplifies the dynamic and sets roles for the siblings for the rest of the film: 15 years later, Jacob is still looking for magic beans, and it still makes Will angry because of their overwrought family history.When the story picks up years later, the brothers are freelance exorcists, traveling around Europe during the Age of Enlightenment purging bad spirits from the villages. Their reputation literally precedes them into towns, and the script quickly reveals why: They’re charlatans.Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare provide the funny accents this time as French officer Delatombe and his lieutenant Cavaldi. Since they’re representing France after its revolution, they probably symbolize the conflict between superstition and reason, which might have something to do with the plot. Trouble is, I could never tell exactly what they were saying through all the comically overdone accents. All the subtlety – and the point to “The Brothers Grimm” – lies buried under a helter-skelter amalgam of fantasy, comedy, action, twisted fairy tales and Grimm family values.Whether they’re good or bad, Gilliam’s movies don’t seem to suffer from a lack of ideas. And so the problem with “The Brothers Grimm” isn’t that it doesn’t have anything to say, but rather that it has too much, and as a result of it all coming out at once, it sounded a lot like gibberish to me.
Some things are better left to the imagination. “The Brothers Grimm” is one of them.The movie is loosely based on the lives of brothers Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger) Grimm, who collected often cruel and terrifying stories from European villagers in the early 1800s. In the film, the brothers live a profitable life staging scares so villagers will hire them to kill witches the duo fabricated. But then, they encounter a truly magical forest.The summary sparked my interest enough to fight with Dan to review “The Brothers Grimm.” But Dan ultimately won because I squirmed in my seat for 118 minutes, waiting for the movie to end.I can explain the movie’s main problem in adult or kiddy terms. In adult terms, there’s not enough foreplay; it just leaps into action and never goes deep enough to satisfy. In kiddy terms, there’s not enough tension. When I was a kid, my uncle’s ghost stories scared the bejesus out of me because he took time to set the stage and draw me into the characters’ lives. “The Brothers Grimm” throws us into a short but dramatic scene of the boys’ childhood, then fast-forwards us to adult brothers conquering fabricated witches. When the first witch on the screen lurches toward us, it feels empty rather than startling because there’s no build up.And that’s how the rest of the movie goes. It throws too much on the screen without taking time to delve into the art of storytelling – which, I believe, was the true Grimm Brothers’ forte. It’s as if screenwriter Ehren Kruger randomly ripped pages from The Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale books, then producers crammed Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, the wolf man and a host of other mythical icons into a computer animated program in hopes of wowing audiences with technology rather than craft.Dan nailed it when he said it’s a breathless sprint through history, myth and folklore – none of which people are meant to race through.Fairy tales are meant to enchant and stimulate the imagination, not overwhelm the senses with stereotypical moving trees and melodramatic orchestral music. If you need a Grimm fairy tale fix, grab the book, not a seat in the theater.
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