Terry Gilliam’s (Brazil) much anticipated narrative effort, after his famously doomed attempt at adapting Don Quixote for the big screen, is a visually impressive but viscerally blank movie thanks to Ehren Kruger’s (The Skeleton Key) irksome script. Without concern for veracity about the celebrated authors of such fairytale classics as Cinderella and Rapunzel, Kruger weaves a loose canvas where he paints the erudite brothers as fictional nineteenth-century opportunists who make their money fooling German villages into believing in bogus monsters that only they can be hired to “exorcise.” The gypsy brothers, cynical Will (Matt Damon) and gullible Jacob (Heath Ledger), are found out and captured by French authorities who assign them to dispel the mystery behind the disappearance of young maidens in the village of Marbaden near an enchanted forest. Audiences other than preteens will be sorely disappointed at Gilliam’s over-massaged vision of a tediously gimmicky script.
Grime flies onto Ledger’s and Damon’s era-perfect costumes in rainy opening scenes that foreshadow the opaqueness of their silly cartoonish characters. With a page torn from a Hardy Boys story the Grimm brothers perform a barn-enclosed exorcism that employs the use of a manned monster that swings from a contraption of pulleys to convince the barn’s owner that he has spent his town’s money wisely. The sequence gives the movie a false start and predisposes the audience away from accepting the fairytale aspects of the story that compete with hollow comic tones toward an unrewarding climax.
Jonathan Pryce (The Affair Of The Necklace) is mechanically villainous as Delatombe a commanding member of Napoleon’s Army overseeing a bumbling torturer named Cavaldi (Peter Stormare—Fargo). The Army suspects the brothers for the disappearance of numerous girls from Marbaden and gives the brothers a death-wish opportunity to prove their innocence by solving the mystery.
Will and Jacob are left to convince Angelika (Lena Headey—Possession), a local huntress, to guide them through the thick forest for clues. A mausoleum-like tower in the middle of the forest shifts the movie into a too-little-too-late spree of Grimm Brothers’ fairytale iconography. Owned by a murderous king and his “Mirror Queen,” the impenetrable tower holds the answer for the brothers to reverse the Queen’s spell and make the area safe for young girls.
Gilliam takes obvious joy in scenes involving a catapult device that sends Jacob flying through the air and inside the tower where he gets more than an eye full of Monica Bellucci’s ancient queen. The scene is reminiscent of the closing moments of The Skeleton Key and attracts an uncomfortable comparison between the two concurrently running movies written by Ehren Kruger.
The Brothers Grimm fails on three essential points; it doesn’t fulfill its title’s promise of teaching something about the actual Grimm Brothers, it comes nowhere close to achieving the clarity of any of the Brothers Grimm’s brilliant allegorical stories and, lastly, it tarnishes Gilliam’s already sketchy career.
Monica Bellucci steals the movie as The Mirror Queen, a 500 year-old immortal ruler intent on attaining eternal beauty by way of a magical curse requiring the lives of 12 young maidens. Damon’s morphing sideburns and eyebrows carry on their own surreal subplot while Ledger diligently attempts to single-handedly carry a children’s movie with a 60 million dollar budget. Gilliam and his adoring audiences would have been better off if he had just directed a faithful version of Hansel And Gretel. MTW