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THE BROTHERS GRIMM

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, Lena Headey, Jonathan Pryce, Monica Bellucci
Director:  Terry Gilliam
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dimension
Features:  See Review
Length:  118 Minutes
Release Date:  December 20, 2005

"We're here to save your land from evil enchantments!"

Film **

If actors sometimes phone in their performances, I guess directors can, too.  I kind of got that feeling when watching Terry Gilliam's latest offering The Brothers Grimm.  It was actually confirmed on the commentary track, where Gilliam admitted he didn't like the script but accepted it because he was out of work.

I can't help but read into The Brothers Grimm his continuing disappointment at the collapse of his dream project on Don Quixote.  The weather, his lead actor's health and other concerns brought that production to a screeching halt, and ended with the insurance companies owning everything associated with it, including his screenplay.

Here was a seemingly wonderful opportunity for Gilliam to open up his magic bag and dazzle us with a couple of hours of pure dark fantasy, as he has done throughout his career.  But The Brothers Grimm is like a Frankenstein monster that never comes to life.  There are parts that impress.  But there is no spirit.

The idea is a terrific one:  telling the tale of the authors of the world's most memorable and legendary fairy tales as a story of a couple of con artists.  Their gift for yarns of fantasy actually serves the more dubious purpose of helping them to play on townfolk's superstitions and making a profit as a result.

Heath Ledger (the new Matt Damon!) plays Jacob, the younger, more imaginative, and more believing of the two brothers, while Matt Damon (the old Matt Damon?) portrays the elder Will as more worldly, more cynical, and more burdened because he has to look out for his younger sibling.

They operate in French occupied Germany, where one of Napoleon's generals (Pryce) uncovers their schemes and makes them an offer:  instead of prison or death, they can investigate a TRUE case of the supernatural in a haunted wood.

Aided by Angelika (Headey), a pretty but tough woodswoman who has far more savvy when it comes to fairy tale horrors than our intrepid brothers, they set off into some haunted woods for an encounter with a 500 year old Mirror Queen (Bellucci), and the story of what's been happening to the local town's children unfolds.

As a plot description, it sounds pretty fun.  So what perplexes is just how limp the tale hangs on the screen.  There are some good visual effects, such as the trees that come to life and move around, but nothing that really enthralls or engages.  Matt Damon has yet to convince me that he can bring life to a movie solely on the strength of his starring appearance.  Heath Ledger is a personal favorite of mine, and his performance is definitely a grace of this film, but unfortunately, not a saving one.

Can this be the same director that enchanted us with Time Bandits, blew open our minds with Brazil, thrilled us with Baron Munchausen and darkened us with Twelve Monkeys?  I've been a fan of Terry Gilliam's for decades, and to me, his work always bore a signature style:  you could watch his movies without his name on the screen and you'd still know who made it.  I wouldn't have guessed in a hundred years that he was the auteur behind this picture if I hadn't known better.  Even the stabs at bringing in the real Grimm fairy tales could have been fun, but even they seem academic at best.

Would I have liked it more if my expectations hadn't been so high?  I don't think so.  For such a clever story idea and such a great angle on how to tell it, The Brothers Grimm should have fired the imaginations of even the most mediocre of directors.  But the fact that it was Terry Gilliam who brought it to life definitely leads to a greater feeling of loss for what could have, and should have been.

Video ***1/2

A good quality offering from Dimension...this anamorphic transfer preserves the cleanness and crispness of Gilliam's vision well.  Detail level is good throughout, as are colors; only one or two darker scenes show a little bit of grain and less definition.

Audio ***

A perfectly good 5.1 sound mix accompanies the film...not a lot of demand for the subwoofer, but the action sequences and the eerie forest effects keep the front and rear stages occupied.  Dialogue is clear and dynamic range is fairly strong.

Features ***

There's a commentary track from Gilliam, which is enjoyable...his always make for good listens.  There are also 12 deleted scenes with optional commentary from Gilliam, and two production featurettes.

Summary:

You can tell Terry Gilliam's heart wasn't really in The Brothers Grimm, and it shows.  A good idea and cast can't make up for what is decidedly a dispirited effort from the normally fantastic director.

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