January 1, 2005 -- “The Brothers Grimm” is a great-looking movie with a spectacular production design and art direction. The development of its story is muddled and halting, however. Like all Terry Gilliam projects, there is a touch of genius and a touch of madness too. It features great performances hampered by very uneven pacing. Sometimes the story moves quickly, other times it drags. The story takes place in a decidedly off-kilter universe which is wondrous at times. At other times it is a bit disgusting.
Terry Gilliam, formerly of Monty Python's Flying Circus, has directed some movies that are inspired, like “Brazil” and “The Fisher King,” while others are quite a mixed bag, like “Time Bandits” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” His latest film, “The Brothers Grimm” is another mixed bag. It looks great and has some inspired acting, but the story bogs down frequently and the characters and their relationships are seriously underdeveloped.
The film stars Matt Damon of “The Bourne Supremacy” as Wilhelm Grimm and Heath Ledger of “Brokeback Mountain” as his brother Jacob Grimm. These two are famous for consolidating and compiling traditional fairy tales into the most famous book of fairy tales ever written. In this movie, however, they are early 18th century con artists who pretend to rid villages of witches and other supernatural creatures using stage tricks. The two are caught by the French army which was occupying Germany at the time. They are given a choice, death, or do a little job for the French. They decide to do the job, which is to find several children who have been abducted from the town of Marbaden. The French think the abduction has been staged by persons unknown for unknown purposes and figure the two con artists are just the people to catch them. The villagers think the children were abducted by a witch.
Will and Jake Grimm arrive in the village accompanied by French troops under the command of the eccentric Cavaldi (Peter Stormare of “Chocolat”). Will and Jake soon find that real magic is afoot in the enchanted forest near the village. A witch has abducted the children. Jake has always believed in magic, but Will never has. Jake has to convince his brother, the French and the villagers that the witch's spell must be broken before the children can be rescued. He also has to figure out how to break the spell. The brothers have only one ally, a pretty young villager named Angelika (played by Lena Headey) who knows the mysterious ways of the forest. Matters are further complicated by the arrival of a volatile French general, Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce of “De-Lovely”) who has a strong urge to kill Will and Jake.
The film looks wonderful, with great production design by Guy Dyas (“X2: X-Men Reunited”), art direction by Andy Thomson and Frank Walsh, and set decoration by Guy Dyas and Judy Farr. The film has a unique look, almost cartoonish in its ability to mimic fairy tale book illustrations. The acting is also strong by all the principles, especially by Peter Stormare in a difficult role. One of the problems in the film is that the characters seem more like thin sketches. We never really get to know them. Some characters, like Delatombe and Cavaldi are practically caricatures, driven by bizarre and unfathomable motivations. The result is a wildly uneven film of marginal entertainment value. It rates a C.
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