THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE BROTHERS GRIMM"

The Brothers Grimm takes the famous fairy tale writers and plugs them into a completely fictional plot. When we first meet the siblings, here known as Jake (Heath Ledger) and Will Grimm (Matt Damon), they are con men who stage artificial hauntings so that they can get paid for chasing away the “ghosts.” Their work brings them so much fame that French general Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) essentially blackmails them into doing a job for him. A local forest is allegedly overrun with evil spirits who have been snatching up local children. The Grimms must find a way to stop the otherworldly activity.

Despite being charlatans, the siblings investigate the forest with the help of a young local woman named Angelika (Lena Headey). They discover that the evil Mirror Queen (Monica Belluci) is not, in fact, a local legend but actually a real person. She hides away in a tall, seemingly inaccessible tower. The children are being abducted so that she can steal their youth. (With her penchant for staring into a mirror and asking who the fairest one of all is, the Queen might remind you of a well-known Grimm character.) Once Will and Jake uncover the plot, they devise a plan to get inside that tower, dispose of the queen, and return the children safely.

The Brothers Grimm was directed by Terry Gilliam, and as you would expect from any Gilliam movie, it is visually astounding. Certainly the real Grimm siblings would take delight at the dark, twisted world the director brings to the screen. It certainly calls to mind the original, bleak atmosphere of their tales. Gilliam has always been a master at finding the exact right tone and visual style for his projects, from the futuristic weirdness of Twelve Monkeys and Brazil, to the psychedelia of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, to the gloomy fantasia here.

Visually accomplished though he may be, Gilliam has always failed as a storyteller, which is his Achilles heel this time as well. Whenever I watch one of the director’s films, I’m dazzled by the look, but I never get emotionally involved in the plot. There’s always something distancing about them; they’re great to look at, although they perpetually keep you at arm’s length. There’s a whole lot going on in The Brothers Grimm, but it’s all over the map. What the movie needs is a clear center – a core around which everything else revolves. Logically, this would be a Finding Neverland-style story (albeit a fictional one) in which the brothers are inspired to write their tales based on the magical adventure they go on. Instead, we get what is essentially a live-action “Scooby Doo” episode that tries to go in six different directions simultaneously.

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are certainly entertaining in their roles, bringing an Abbott & Costello goofiness to the Grimms. I was reminded of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, in which Johnny Depp unexpectedly (but effectively) played Ichabod Crane as a scardy-cat. It’s not how you would anticipate seeing these characters, but it’s an intriguing spin. Too bad that the movie doesn’t know what to do with Damon and Ledger. The screenplay hints at some sibling rivalry issues, but they’re never developed. Nor, as I said, do we really get much insight into the formation of their stories. The audience can certainly see parallels to “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Snow White,” yet the characters often aren’t even present for scenes that would appear to inspire their classic fairy tales.

In fairness, I don’t think that the problem is all Gilliam’s. The Brothers Grimm had a troubled production that has been well documented in the entertainment press. Its release was delayed from last Christmas, following a protracted battle between Gilliam and Dimension Films honcho Bob Weinstein over everything from casting to cinematography to final cut. Reportedly, the movie was shortened a few times in the editing room; it shows. There are moments where you feel like a chunk of the story is missing, and it probably is.

I’d say that half of The Brothers Grimm is great, and the other half is pretty bad. I loved the sequence in which a horse swallows a young child. There’s another neat scene in which a sludge monster steals the facial features from a little boy. And the fate of the evil Mirror Queen…well, that’s just cool. Again, those are visual things. The Brothers Grimm looks sensational, but it falters in plot and character development. The film had my full attention during the imaginative scenes; as soon as characters started talking, though, I couldn’t stop daydreaming. It’s ironic that a movie whose central characters are two of the world’s greatest storytellers should be so careless in telling its own story.

( out of four)


The Brothers Grimm is rated PG-13 for violence, frightening sequences and brief suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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