Gilliam crafts a grim “Grimm”
The director’s latest film, “The Brothers Grimm,” comes seven years after his previous one, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” In between there have been countless rumors, false starts, and even a spectacular, expensive implosion of a “Don Quixote” adaptation. In interviews, Gilliam said he was hungry simply to make a film.
Unfortunately there’s little evidence of any passion in this work. “Grimm” shows flashes of brilliance, but is unlikely to become a comeback picture. Gilliam needed another “Brazil.” What he delivered was another “Baron Munchausen,” except not as much fun.
The brothers of this film are far from the historical Grimms, who were socially conscious academics. These wandering con artists fool unwitting townspeople with elaborate tales of supernatural threats, which their accomplices produce with theatrical trickery. The brothers then vanquish the ghosts, witches and trolls and walk off with a handsome reward.
Will (Matt Damon) supplies the lies and Jacob (Heath Ledger) the background research. Eventually the law catches up to them in the form of the Napoleonic occupation forces under General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce). Young girls have been disappearing in Marbaden Forest, and Delatombe decides to employ tricksters to catch tricksters. He sends the Grimms to investigate, accompanied by his sadistic torturemaster, Cavaldi (Peter Stormare).
The film is peppered with scenes of the girls being abducted, and each invokes a different Grimm tale, such as “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Gingerbread Man.” Allusions to other stories like “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Rapunzel” pepper the rest of the film.
Unfortunately, these scenes seem forced. Instead of setting the Gingerbread Man scene in an evil bakery, the girl is devoured by common mud and somehow transformed into a cookie. The little red riding hood stand-in is devoured not by a wolf, but, improbably, by a horse.
Worse, these sequences play completely straight, with the subversive Gilliam wit M.I.A. In the end, the story comes down to a choice between Will’s view of cold reality and Jake’s belief in the power of the folk tale. Of course, fantasy wins out, but it’s hard to fathom that the director who fought Big Brother with a heroic renegade heating engineer in “Brazil” could treat the limitless possibilities of folk magic with such utter solemnity.
Thank God for the French. Jonathon Pryce ― in his best imitation of Terry Jones doing a silly French accent― and company shine a murky comedic light into this movie. Cabaldi’s torture scene, accompanied by a string quartet, provides a brief glimpse of Gilliam the macabre comedian. But it doesn’t carry the film.
The ideas, the characters, even individual shots in “Brothers Grimm” show promise. But the final product is disappointingly average for a director with an imagination as limitless as the real brothers Grimm.
The Brothers Grimm
Adventure / English
by Ben Applegate