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The Brothers Grimm (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Grim is the right word for this film. I would have loved to have seen a good biopic about the guys who wrote some of the most loved fairy tales. But this is not a biopic. This has about as much relation to fact as do Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck.

Director Terry Gilliam and screenwriter Ehren Kruger have told a story using the brothers Grimm, Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger), as characters in a tale that brings in many of the themes of the tales they told. There’s Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel and lots of other characters from their fairy tales, but they aren’t performing the tales. They are, for some reason, thrown into the film. Unless the entire movie is allegorical, this film is more nonsensical than the skits of Gilliam’s primogenitor, Monty Python. Python’s skits were, more often than not, bilious and unfunny. “The Brothers Grimm” fits right in.

Says Gilliam, “Fairy tales have always been the way the world exercises its fears and its darkest imaginings and, also the way it sustains its belief in happy endings. I believe fairy tales were always meant to be a little dangerous and disturbing, to stir things up.”

And that’s what he does here. The French are clearly bad guys. General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) is imposing his will on the German countryside where the Grimms are working a con, swindling people out of their money, so he wants to find out what they’re doing. He assigns his henchman, Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) to find out what’s going on. Stormare’s performance as the wickedly ineffective Cavaldi is the only thing in the movie worth seeing, although Pryce is effectively hateful.

The brothers Grimm are con men, but they are found out and arrested by the Napoleonic French who are occupying Germany. They are forced to try to solve a problem in an enchanted forest. The forest was created entirely on a sound stage and it looks like it.

This is not just too phantasmagorical to be entertainment, it’s incoherent. Apparently the brothers Grimm find themselves in competition for the beautiful Angelika (Lena Headey), who is living by herself on the edge of the enchanted forest. Will is peripatetic, but peripatetic isn’t funny. Jacob is bookish and writing all the time. The trees walk. There’s an old witch who occasionally asks a mirror “who is the fairest of them all?” There’s a wolf who turns into a man. You get the point. Gilliam seems to be trying to tell a modern story by using all the Grimms’ characters but without telling us anything at all about the Grimms themselves.  Aren’t these two brothers who created fairy tales that have proven the test of time worthy of a real biopic? Maybe Gilliam has a point to make. If so, it was too abstract for me. Not just a complete waste of money, it’s an opportunity lost.

July 21, 2005