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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "The Brothers Grimm" (2005)

When people ask me my favorite film of all time, I often say Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” I won’t go into detail as to why, but I have been making 10-Best lists since 1985 when the film first came out and it’s the one movie that has been a constant, whether at #1 or somewhere in the Top 5. It has never left me, so I may as well own up to that one as a personal favorite. Why not? It’s as good a choice as any. Since then, Gilliam has made only six films (one of which, “Tideland,” will be released later this year). His latest, “The Brothers Grimm,” may not rank up there with his finest, but it’s certainly a Gilliam movie through and through.

How do you know you’re watching a Gilliam movie? Consider the lavish set designs as viewed through canted angles and looked upon by demented faces in the foregrounds; the seizing of opportunities to poke fun at torture chambers, genocide and the military; the disdain for authority by the reluctant heroes; the steadfast and resilient female characters taking charge more often than the men; visions of grim reapers, damsels in distress, moving trees and, of course, knights on horses; the Monty Python humor continuously seeping into his work, even 20 years later.

And it’s all here. This is the Terry Gilliam of “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” the rambunctious cartoonist who would rather pile on the details into every frame than try to move you with subtle character development. Luckily, I found the characters to be interesting and fun enough to be around for a couple hours. The Brothers Grimm consist of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, respectively), two traveling con artists who roam from town to town conjuring up evil spirits and then banishing them away for good from the scared, naïve townfolk. For a fee, of course.

Their deceptive ways catch up with them after Napoleon’s German right hand man Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce, another Gilliam staple) reveals them as frauds. However, when real evil spirits start to make their way into the foreground of the quaint little village of Marbaden, the Grimm brothers get sent there to do their job for real. Many children in the village have gone missing, most notably Hansel, Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood. Jacob believes in spiritual matters more than Wilhelm, who can’t see beyond the idea of using their tricks for financial gains. However, with the help of Angelika (Lena Headly), whose father died under mysterious circumstances, the likelihood of these horrific events being related to evil spirits and monsters becomes more of a reality.

Damon and Ledger appear to be enjoying themselves. They downplay what could have been an annoying buddy comedy and instead keep the material at exactly the level it should be. Not too serious and not too zany. Headly is your typical Gilliam female protagonist, with a weapon in hand and smarts to spare. As Delatombe, Pryce has played this type of role before for Gilliam in “Munchausen,” but who can do it better? And Peter Stormare once again travels unrecognizable through the insane landscape, further exemplifying his stature as the new Gary Oldman.

The material here may be nothing new for Gilliam, but it certainly doesn’t represent any kind of complete failure that I can see. True, his cup tends to runneth over in terms of unnecessary sight gags and I’m not exactly crazy about the over-usage of CG effects (that may be because Gilliam makes so few films that they seem out of place at this point in his career). But his indelible stamp remains evident and is a welcome relief at a time when most big-budget, high concept movies get delivered to us without a shred of character.

There’s still a movie here, and a darn good one. In the future, I’m sure the film will be looked at as some kind of failure for Gilliam when compared to the rest of his impeccable resume. He’s still a visual showman, a childish tease and an artist with an imagination too big for cinema. “The Brothers Grimm” merely represents a creative exercise, an excuse to get the blood flowing again for whatever “Tideland” has in store for us. For this, as well as every other film by Terry Gilliam, I will return. I will, to old…

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