The Brothers Grimm
After falling off his horse chasing windmills with The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Terry Gilliam limps into the director's chair to tackle a fictionalized tale about famed storytellers, the Brothers Grimm. The result is a surprisingly dull and lifeless film not worthy of the Gilliam cannon.
Brothers Will and Jake Grimm make a killing saving superstitious villagers in French-occupied Germany from imaginary witches, demons and other supernatural pests. Though Will (Matt Damon) relishes the money and the glory--not to mention the fawning lasses--Jake (Heath Ledger) feels a tad guilty about stiffing the locals out of their hard-earned coin. All Jake really wants to do is tell stories, which is why he writes everything they encounter down in his journal. Meanwhile, General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), the local French magistrate, gets wind of their scam and uses persuasive measures--like threatening to boil the brother's co-conspirators in oil--to convince the them to admit they're charlatans. Once Will and Jake cave to the pressure--something they do with relative ease--they're brought to a remote village by Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), General Delatombe's chief toady, where young girls are being stolen away in the night by unnatural forces. Seems 500 years ago, a once-beautiful queen (Monica Bellucci) cast the spell for eternal life, spreading death and pestilence across the land. Now in an attempt to recapture her lost beauty, the old witch must drink the blood of twelve virgins at the stroke of midnight during a lunar eclipse. Enter the Brothers Grimm with their showy weapons and shiny armor, as they do battle the one thing they've managed to avoid their entire lives: the reality of enchantment.
Casting Matt Damon and Heath Ledger was the best decision made by the former Monty Python trouper. The comedic chemistry between the two is the one saving grace in an otherwise lethargic and uninspired movie. Though Damon is his usual cocksure self, Ledger steps outside his comfort zone, lopping off his blond locks and donning a pair of spectacles while delivering an amusing performance as the head-in-the-clouds Jake. As Cavaldi, Stormare--barely recognizable in dark greasy hair and stenciled moustache--is promising in his role as the general's smarmy sycophant, but becomes one-note rather quickly. His turn for the good at the end only befits the requisite Happy Ending. Gilliam stable actor Jonathan Pryce looks bored delivering limp one-liners with an exaggerated French accent, and his motivation for going after Will and Jake is nonexistent. What does he care if they bilk the locals? Damned if he or anything else in the movie explains this. Then there's Lena Headey as Angelika, a 21st century-minded woman trapped in the Napoleonic era. The bearskin-clad huntress leads the quivering brothers into the forest to face the supernatural unknown and later serves as the standard love interest, leaving Headey's considerable talents vastly underutilized. Gilliam could have cast a block of wood and we would have been none the wiser.
It's hard to imagine the director of Brazil, 12 Monkeys and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen producing two hours of nearly useless celluloid. But with The Brothers Grimm sadly, he did. Perhaps it was his aborted attempt to direct The Man Who Killed Don Quixote that drained Gilliam of his typical verve--it's easy to see the exhaustion from that experience on screen here. Even the muddled and confusing Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas contained more fun and zap than The Brothers Grimm. While occasional drum rolls accent an offbeat line or zippy camera moves amplify the wackiness, Gilliam, for the most part, seems content with sitting back and letting others do the work. Without Damon and Ledger prying out the occasional chuckle, Grimm would be sullenly devoid of any fun at all. Meanwhile, Gilliam thought it a good idea to slip a few Grimm fairy tale references into the thin storyline--Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Grethel, and Rapunzel all make appearances. Though this keeps one involved with what's happening on screen, it's all a meaningless fancy that obviously amused the filmmakers, but no one else. It seems that Will and Jake's bumbled chasing of fictional witches and demons is an apt metaphor to Gilliam's own failed attempt to chase real-life windmills. If only his efforts could have had a happier ending.
The director of zany classics like Brazil and The Fisher King fails to live up to his own legacy. While some chuckles are spread throughout, thanks to Damon and Ledger, the result is a flat and tired fairy tale plodding across the screen, full of glittering sets and glib references, signifying nothing.