The Brothers Grimm

Terry Gilliam has always been a fanboy favorite. It probably has a lot to do with his pedigree as the animator for Monty Python. Consequently, he has an animator’s eye for image. He’s a very visual director, almost to the detriment of other elements. In this respect you could group him with Tim Burton, who has the same priorities. I think Gilliam is more ambitious and unfortunately less successful. The main problem, as I see it, is pace. Your description of the pace depends on how much you like the film. The Fisher King is stately, whereas Baron Munchausen is slow. I got to tell you though, I wouldn’t care to watch either DVD on a Friday night. I guess my enthusiasm for Gilliam is not as ardent as other fans. But then those animated segments in Monty Python were never my favorite.

In The Brothers Grimm we have the famous folkloreists (only the names are historical) traveling through 18th century Germany, running a scam where their two diminutive confederates “haunt” a town by using mechanical devices and costumes. The brothers contact the leaders of the afflicted village and offer to drive out the evil, for an exorbitant fee. Eventually, they encounter a real supernatural phenomenon.

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are pretty good as the brothers. Damon plays Wilhem, the older, faster talking sibling who’s the driving force behind their schemes. It’s not a very demanding role and Damon is able to get by on his considerable charisma. The role of the younger brother Jacob, played by Heath Ledger, is a little meatier. His is more scholorly and only reluctantly participates in the cons because of a guilty conscience. Ledger captures these nuances very well.

It goes without saying that this is a visually inventive film. In fact that’s part of the problem. Gilliam has too many ideas and not enough discipline to discard a good one if it doesn’t fit. This film is 118 minutes long, short compared to other Gilliam marathons, but it seems longer because it flies off in so many directions. There were rumors of friction between Gilliam and Miramax, who distributed the film. I suspect the script was one of the major bones of contention.

Another area of conflict may have been the effects. Mostly they are pretty good, but every once in a while a bad one comes up and pulls you out of the story. There’s one scene where a shawl flies away from a little girl who gives chase and is led into a cave. The effect is just horrible. The SFX budget obviously did not match Gilliam’s vision.

In spite of my reservations, I would reccomend The Brothers Grimm. It is one of Gilliam’s more accessible films. A clever child would be able to follow the plot. And it’s funny.

I suspect that people have pointed out his lack of discipline to Terry Gilliam before now. If he hasn’t gotten it under control after all these years, it probably means he doesn’t want to. So, I fear, the most we can expect from him is flawed masterpieces. It’s a pity really, because he is a supremely talented filmmaker. 


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September 2005
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