Bonjour, friends! Today is a tough one for me. I love Terry Gilliam, I really do. His movies course through my veins, and I am generally compelled to like them. Everybody remembers my fond romp through The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, all the fun I had gallivanting and enjoying myself. But The Brothers Grimm is different. This movie is so visually stunning and so technically provocative, but so unmemorable that even after just a recent viewing it is difficult to recall all the details.
During the early years of the 19th century, two brothers by the name of Will and Jake Grimm travel the countryside in French-occupied Germany. They are a couple of phonies, and charlatans to boot, who claim to have power over the supernatural and can exorcise haunted areas. They ride into one town that is convinced that a witch’s ghost plagues them and casts ills upon them. They readily agree to help them for a fee. Upon dispatching this ghost, however, it is revealed that all they did was con the town with a number of tricks and clever illusions. While celebrating at a nearby tavern, a strange Italian named Cavaldi comes up to them and insists they come with him to meet General Delatombe, the military leader of the occupied land. The creepy Italian guy being as forcefully persuasive as he is, the two decide to meet the general. He, also being forcefully persuasive, tells the two to solve a problem for him. All the young girls in the nearby village of Marbaden have gone missing, and all the townspeople believe it to be the work of evil spirits. Delatombe, however, is aware of the phoniness of the brothers now in his employ, and he doesn’t believe in evil spirits any more than they do. He feels that some other cons are responsible, and he wants them to get to the bottom of it. They do it, albeit unwillingly, and start looking for the tale-tell signs of fakery in the superstitious village of Marbaden. All the people say that it is the work of an evil queen in a tower in the forest abreast to the town. And the deeper they look into this mysterious incident, though, the less likely it seems that con artists are responsible. Is there an evil queen in the forest? Can the brothers save the abducted children before it becomes too late? Can these two mischievous brothers turn over a new leaf and become the heroes they only pretended to be for these scared, vulnerable townsfolk?
As always, Gilliam takes his love of storytelling, magic, and folklore into his films, creating a landscape that is unique and completely his. To my dismay, however, it seems this landscape is also very forgettable. Nothing about this movie stays with you for very long. While the vision is undeniably compelling, I feel that the weakness lies with the script and the leads. We are taken to a world where magic is possible, full of colorful characters and adventure, only to follow two boring, jerk brothers and their banal banter. It is very counter-productive to what Gilliam must have originally intended.
Let me say that while I respect both Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, who play Will and Jake Grimm respectively, I could not see one example of real chemistry between the two. The camaraderie seemed contrived, the sibling playfulness seemed manufactured, and in the end they were both trying to be the leading man instead of brothers. It felt like if someone had cast both Val Kilmer and Michael Keaton were both cast as Batman in the same movie, both of them pretending to be Bruce Wayne and beating up bad guys side-by-side, and the director let them duke it out for on-screen supremacy for two hours. So an E for effort, but a NC for No Compatibility.
The script is also quite weak. There is certainly enough going on, but not enough of it is interesting. There were many times when I wanted to urge the characters on with my mouse pointer, showing them which way to go instead of making witty repartee. It’s not that rambling is a problem in a movie like this, where it can feel right as long as it is engaging, but this is the wrong dialog for a Gilliam script. It does not fit, and it can be problematic and distracting.
The direction, as usual, is amazing. Gilliam actually manages to make the woods a little scary again. No longer a tired standard for a brilliant two hours, it really feels at times that the forest is against the brothers, and all that the forest commands. Gilliam has a way of making magic out of the ordinary, and even the simplest shots can intrigue. Even this is hindered by the long wonky dialog, though, when Gilliam stops his innovation to just let these two leading men talk, as if the camera itself is enthralled by Damon and Ledger (THEY’RE SO DREAMY…). But when he melds the lilting, coy music with the grand special effects with the two leads it can really shine, so I can’t fault him too much.
So I can’t really tear this movie a new one. It’s good on its own terms. But, damn it, I cannot keep this movie in my head. It is ultimately forgettable, the last thing Gilliam ever would have wanted. So check it out if you feel curious this weekend, but keep a pen and paper close to the sofa when you watch to take notes. Otherwise you might never even know you saw a movie. I give The Brothers Grimm 6 1/2 dual Bruce Waynes out of 10.
Tomorrow is the first of this week’s two Night Out segments! Get ready to get Fired Up!