01/01/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
The Brothers Grimm is a funhouse of ideas and visual surprises but a story with no centre and virtually no characters, says Mark. It is more imaginative than the similar Van Helsing is, but it has many of the same faults. Terry Gilliam has to realize that there is a lot more to film than creating unexpected and amazing images. There is certainly enchantment here, but the story does not do much to hold it together.
Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Terry Gilliam is probably a genius. He came to the world's attention as the animator for "Monty Python's Flying Circus". For this work there was a premium on surprising the audience. Surprise is at the heart of most humour anyway. Gilliam has made unexpected and bizarre images his hallmark.
Most of his film career he has been making live-action films that have the same sense of surprise. Over the course of sixty seconds in a Gilliam film just about anything can happen. This is a virtue of sorts, but it also leads to stories that are not engaging. It is very difficult for any character continuity to express itself through the light and action show. Jonathan Pryce manages to give us a character of interest in Brazil, easily Gilliam's best film. But that is a rarity. Gilliam's take on The Brothers Grimm is historically inaccurate and emotionally more numbing than engaging, but it does provide him with a canvas for some amazing images.
As is generally known, the actual Brothers Grimm were collectors of folktales and researchers in folklore. The fairy tales that bear their names were collected by them and transcribed into stories. The Brothers Grimm suggests that instead they are primarily con artists and charlatans who pose as freelance witch hunters for hire. The year is 1796 and the invading French occupy Germany. Mark Damon and Heath Ledger play Will and Jake Grimm.
The Brothers Grimm ply their dishonest trade, looking for hamlets that think they have problem with the supernatural and then they stage amazing shows of the supernatural culminating with the brothers dramatically dispelling the evil. The superstitious locals believe what they see. And well they might because the Grimm Brothers use stagecraft centuries in advance of their time. These shows would be likely be impossible even with 21st century staging.
The two brothers comically argue and fumble their way through several comic situations until a village that has a real supernatural problem hires them. Faced with trees that can move on their own, Wilhelm looks in awe and concludes, "These people are much better funded." But it is not some local performing tricks. Apparently children are really being stolen from the village in ways that are taken from various fairy tales. The brothers investigate and find that they may be in over their heads.
Complicating matters are their run-ins with members of the French army led by an inhuman commander Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce). Also entering into the story is a statuesque trapper Angelika (Lena Headey) who knows the real folklore of dealing with supernatural evil.
Shot in Prague and in Ledec nad Sázavou, both in the Czech Republic, the film has a nice authentic look that speaks of Eastern European craftsmanship. The accents of the characters are a bit of distraction. Most of the major actors have English accents. The brothers themselves have British accents as children and mostly American accents as adults.
Like The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, the film is a scratchpad of ideas and visual surprise. Like Van Helsing, the pace rarely lets up. Like Sleepy Hollow, this film borrows from familiar stories, but has little to do with their canonical versions. The story is really sausage that is made from grinding together various pieces of familiar Grimms' fairy tales. And to make it more palatable, only the fairy tales most familiar to modern audiences are used. In spite of a good cast the story is driven by Gilliam's style and the fast pace rather than by characters. Heath Ledger, whose current appearance in Brokeback Mountan may be a breakthrough performance, is too hidden under make-up as to be unrecognisable here. I bet I know which performance he will want remembered.
It is hard to see where this film will have an audience. Action with no characters does not play well to the art house filmgoer. European history will not play well to the action film crowd. There is much in this film to admire, but it goes by too fast and the story is almost incomprehensible.
I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2006 Mark R. Leeper