Though I’ve managed to see all of Terry Gilliam’s major films (save for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I refuse to watch on the grounds that no director, regardless of talent, could do it justice), unlike most movie critics/cinephiles, I’m among the few that don’t have a serious hard-on for the guy. He is one of those directorial treasures beloved by the adolescent minded, those insufferable dorks who — I imagine — will continue quoting lines from Monty Python and “The Simpsons,” well into their retirement homes (these people also make up the majority of my friends, actually, so I know of what I speak.) I suspect there is some unidentifiable attraction to Gilliam’s motion-picture fantasyscape that allures thirtysomething, semi-alcoholic, cell-phone-attached-t0-the-belt-loop middle-American men trapped in the guise of urban professionals, who may or may not also have an unhealthy obsession with Internet porn (if you’re a big fan of Gilliam, and this assertion rings false to you, I suggest better self-awareness). I haven’t been able to figure out the appeal myself, and Gilliam’s first feature in seven years, The Brothers Grimm, brought me no closer to an understanding.
The film follows the studious and scruffy Jacob (Heath Ledger) and the excessively side-burned Will (Matt Damon), two con-artist brothers who travel the “French-occupied German” countryside enacting elaborate supernatural hoaxes based upon fairy tale myths (and then seemingly vanquishing the self-created ghouls) for reasons wholly unexplained, except perhaps that this provides a means by which Gilliam can stage the rest of the film. Soon enough, the French military gets involved (?!), and the Brothers Grimm are placed before actual supernatural manifestations, in the face of which their limited talents lead only to a lot of bumbling and circle-running as they attempt to eradicate this real enchanted forest of its evils.
The forest itself — which bears a striking resemblance to The Princess Brides’ fire swamp — is haunted by a wolf who preys upon little girls wearing red hoods (seriously) in service of a 500-year-old queen, who not-so-nicely fits the bill of some ridiculous Grimm Brothers medley of Snow White, Rapunzel, and — methinks — Cinderella’s wicked step-mother. Indeed, the weaving together of so many fairy tales gives the entire production the feel of a warmed-over first draft for Shrek 17; there’s a lot of stuff going on here, but for the most part, the film is just biding its time before someone finally breaks the goddamn spell with (of course) a magical kiss!
The premise itself seems an obvious choice for Gilliam, who excels with the type of film that requires an overactive imagination. The scenery lives up to the Gilliam imprimatur: He has created a perfectly bewildering 19th century dystopia; unfortunately, no one bothered to consider anything beyond art direction. The script, by Ehren Kruger, is leaden, witless, and chock-full of studio conventions, which is the sort of thing one would expect coming from the screenwriter behind Reindeer Games and The Skeleton Key, but not from Gilliam, who generally renounces Hollywood convention (and the box office grosses behind it) for the sake of his own brand of art.
If Gilliam had simply gone along with the screenplay, The Brothers Grimm might have been mindlessly mediocre escapism; instead, he seems to fight against it, haphazardly appending unnecessary scenes (like a little boy who morphs into an evil Gingerbread Man) and other superfluous elements into the storyline, which do little except interrupt the narrative flow and overextend the running time. Indeed, there were times during the film when absolutely nothing made sense; in some ways, it seemed as though Gilliam was trying to sabotage Brothers Grimm out of disgust with himself for signing up with the Brothers Weinstein.
Then again, Terry Gilliam may have simply fallen under the same spell as a few other distinctive directors lately, who seem to be riding along on their reputations. Like Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic and the Coen Brothers’ The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty, Terry Gilliam’s Brothers Grimm feels trapped within the director’s singular cinematic quirks and conventions. It is left to Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, and Peter Stormare (doing a bad John Turturro impression) to breathe life into his glassed-in world, an effort undertaken admirably; unfortunately, what the film really needed was less imagination.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
The Brothers Grimm / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()