THE BROTHERS GRIMM A film review by David N. Butterworth Copyright 2005 David N. Butterworth
** (out of ****)
It's hard to believe that seven years have passed since former "Monty Python" animator-turned-feature director Terry Gilliam last made a movie, his 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (with Johnny Depp). Actually, seven years have passed since Gilliam last *completed* a movie, one that subsequently landed a distributor and found its way into theaters.
If it *feels* like he's made one in the interim that's because of Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's fascinating 2002 film "Lost in La Mancha," a dead-on documentary that deliciously details Gilliam's passionate--but ultimately failed--attempt to make "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" (also with Johnny Depp), a disastrous project from start to un-finish in which everything that could go wrong did.
Time has not been kind to Gilliam. Watching his latest (completed) picture "The Brothers Grimm," a grim, grimy, and altogether pointless exercise when you come right down to it, you're not exactly convinced he's lost it as a filmmaker but you can't help but feel there's something missing here. A *lot* missing, in fact. Heart, for one thing. And humor, which it valiantly attempts on occasion yet invariably misses. And chemistry, of which there's none.
As for elegance or magical enchantment... well, there's none of those either.
No, "The Brothers Grimm" is a gloomy affair, a mostly unfunny attempt to dramatize the lives of the great sibling storytellers, Wilhelm and Jacob, or at least stage the spooky circumstances that inspired them to spin such classic fairytales as "Little Red Riding Hood," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Cinderella" among others. Positioned as con men in 19th Century Germany, Will and Jake effect complicated charades to earn their keep as witch hunters and demon slayers, much like what Scooby-Doo's creepy janitor did with all those holograms, wires, and wind machines.
Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play the Grimms with a period costumed uneasiness (Heath, in his serious specs, notebook in hand, fares better than Matt but not much). Jonathan Pryce is embarrassingly French--and therefore Pryce-less?--as Gallic Governor Delatombe and Monica Belluci ("The Passion of the Christ") acts playfully disinterested as the Mirror Queen. In fact, the only person who seems to be having any fun at all is Peter Stormare ("Constantine"'s Satan) who relishes his role of Cavaldi, an irrepressible Italian combatant employed as Delatombe's manic henchman.
"'Grimm"'s tone is scattershot at best with its special effects likewise all over the map. Given the film's budget, some $80 million, one would have expected more than what's on display here (the wolfman is particularly bad). But murky marks the spot, from murky peasant villages (ala "Jabberwocky" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") to even murkier dialogue to (mostly) murkier intents.
All told, in the case of Gilliam's seven-year itch it would appear to have taken his extraordinary talent to have turned this "Brothers'" grim.
-- David N. Butterworth email@example.com
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