Finally, the Labor Day nightcap was Terry Gilliam’s latest outing, The Brothers Grimm, which has been getting panned in the reviews. Well, it’s not as bad as it’s being made out to be, but I can’t say it’s very good either. Long-time Gilliam fans will probably get a kick out of seeing his eye applied to several classic fairy tales — I sure did. But ultimately the film is a mess, with subpar special effects and a terrible, terrible script that borders on the incoherent. In fact, I can’t figure out for the life of me how Ehren Krueger (and, while I’m hating, Akiva Goldsman) keep getting gigs…they’re out-and-out hacks, the Paul Anderson and Brett Ratner of screenwriting. Brothers Grim indeed.
So, what’s good? Well, as you might expect, the best parts of the film are the Gilliamesque visual flourishes. When the movie involves enchanted forests or sleeping beauties or malevolent mirrors or little red riding…capes, Gilliam is in his element, and his kid-in-a-candy-store enthusiasm is infectious. If you’re a aficionado of the guy, these moments almost make the film worthwhile on their own…almost. Art direction aside, however, the effects often have a real budget FX-house look to them. (Memo to the studios: CGI and werewolves don’t ever seem to mix — cf. this, Underworld, American Werewolf in Paris, etc.) If your tale involves a man-wolf of any kind whatsoever, use an old-school make-up guy like Rick Baker or Rob Bottin.)
And, the story…oof. For what it’s worth, Matt Damon (Will) and Heath Ledger (Jakob) both acquit themselves admirably as the brothers/ghostbusters, and Damon in particular has a gleam in his eye that suggests he’d make an even worse movie if it meant he could continue to hang around the Gilliamverse. But the Brothers Grimm are cursed with a grafted-on fraternal backstory — Will wants to protect Jakob, Jakob wants Will to believe in him — that feels artificial from the start and forces them to spit out increasingly unwieldy chunks of character development as the movie progresses.
Worse, scenes just happen one after another with no feeling of narrative development at all. The brothers are in a dungeon, no…the forest, no…the dungeon again, and so on. The brilliant Jonathan Pryce is wasted in a subplot involving a French general that never makes one iota of sense. (Mackenzie Crook, a.k.a. Gareth from The Office, is also wasted, in more ways than one.) And Pryce’s henchman, the usually amiable Peter Stormare, singlehandledly ruins every scene he’s in with a grotesquely hammy performance of Olympian proportions — seriously, he makes Anthony Hopkins in Bram Stoker’s Dracula seem like Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener. Conversely, the film could have used a good deal more of Monica Bellucci’s evil queen (but, to be fair, most films, and most endeavors in life, could stand to use more Monica Bellucci…the world would be a happier place for it.)
Ultimately, the Brothers Grimm is less grim than it is sadly pedestrian, and it has to be counted as a occasionally diverting swing-and-a-miss for Gilliam. But, I’d say that’s more due to the weakness of the material here than it is Gilliam, who shows flashes of his usual mojo. As such, I still have high hopes for Tideland, which, thankfully, is right around the corner.