Friday, September 19, 2014

The Brothers Grimm Review

I had missed seeing The Brothers Grimm (2005) in theaters. On the one hand that's a shame because I loved the movie's concept, but on the other hand I'm not too upset since it wasn't as good as I had hoped. Nevertheless, this is a Terry Gilliam movie, and as such it's chockfull of visual splendor that is gorgeous to behold.
Will Grimm (Matt Damon) and his brother Jake Grimm (Heath Ledger) earn their living by traveling from village to village and vanquishing strange supernatural beasts that have been menacing the populace. Or at least that's what their clients think has been happening. As it so happens, Will and Jake are confidence men who cleverly stage the ghostly attacks and then take payment for making the creatures they fabricate go away. One day, the brothers arrive in a town and offer to help its people drive away evil spirits, unaware that the community is bordered by a genuine enchanted forest, and that young girls in the village have been disappearing at a frightful rate. The Grimm Brothers must now learn how to deal with real magic, with the help of the lovely but fearless Angelika (Lena Headey).
For The Brothers Grimm, both Matt Damon and Heath Ledger were counter typecast which was a great move. Typically Ledger played the brawny action sort of character while Damon often played the more timid, bookish characters. Here it's the other way around and they both did an excellent job in their counter typecast roles. Interestingly, Johnny Depp was Gilliam's first choice for the role of Will but the producer believed that Depp was not yet commercially famous enough for the role. No doubt the movie's producer was kicking himself since half way through the production Pirates of the Caribbean came out and Depp was suddenly a big success and everyone wanted him.
Typical of Terry Gilliam movies, each shot is so crammed full of beautiful details it's almost hard to take it all in at once. There's so much to see and it is always framed in such a remarkable attention-grabbing way that it's hard to take your eyes off the screen. There is a lot of decent CGI work (for its day) coupled with an excellent array of practical effects and detailed sets. The opening scene where  the Grimm brothers are "exorcizing" a ghostly witch looked fantastic; it looks eerie, chilling, and sets pretty high standard visually for the rest of the movie.
Unfortunatly, that's about where the good qualities end. The kindest way I can think to describe The Brothers Grimm is messy. The story feels haphazardly put together; most scenes work well enough individually, but feel awkward and disjointed when juxtaposed against one another. You get a feel for what the movie is trying to do, but for all the visual splendor, it remains essentially inert. You keep waiting for something to happen, and when it does, it seems to neglect to move the story or characters forward in any significant way. While the visuals will easily enchant, the story spins its wheels and fails to go very far.
One of the fun parts of the movie is watching for many nods to classic fairy tales strewn throughout the movie. They tend to be slightly different from the tales they reference. Little Red Riding Hood is referenced only by her red cape, the heroic woodsman is an evil henchmen, the Big Bad Wolf is a large wolf instead of a diabolical personification, and The Gingerbread Man (not actually a Brothers Grimm story, in the first place) is an incarnation of a mud monster. There are many more references that are fun to look for. Still, this is a very dark movie and many of the fairy tale references are remarkably creepy or unsettling. This isn't something I'd recommend watching with young children present.
The Brothers Grimm was disappointing, but still has a certain appeal. It looks fantastic and had lots of potential to be a great movie. But the weak characters and story tend to spoil many of the good qualities. Nevertheless, I think The Brothers Grimm is twice as good as most people say it is, but still only half as good as we were all hoping it would be. The visuals are rich and a treat to behold; I think that's what stands out most about this movie. I find myself reflecting upon the splendid visual effects and camera work periodically which makes me think I should get a copy of the movie just to watch the pretty pictures once in a long while. I recommend seeing The Brothers Grimm only because Terry Gilliam has such masterful skill when it comes to cinema imagery. If you're put off by weak characters and sketchy plot (like I usually am) You're better off passing on this otherwise forgettable movie.

What was your favorite Brothers Grimm story as a kid? Comment below and let me know!

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