Willful children

The Brothers Grimm

Ledger and Damon—which is the wolf and which is the fox?

Ledger and Damon—which is the wolf and which is the fox?

Rated 3.0

Looks like Terry Gilliam has had himself another troubled production.

It’s been seven years since the last Gilliam film (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), although he did try his best to make another one during that stretch; the failure of his Don Quixote film was chronicled in the documentary Lost in La Mancha. In response to the Quixote disaster, Gilliam set out to make his biggest movie yet with the backing of two studios, MGM and Dimension Films (home of the dreaded Weinstein brothers, Bob and Harvey). Of course, MGM had some problems and left the production in Bob and Harvey’s hands, with Gilliam at the mercy of the notorious meddling pair. It appears the film might’ve suffered from this.

The Brothers Grimm, a fictional take on the origin of those famous fairy tales, aspires to be another classic Gilliam fantasy, going along with Jabberwocky, Time Bandits and the sadly underrated The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam’s trademark visual style is often in full-blast, and the movie is peppered with great moments of eccentric comedy.

It also feels disjointed and incomplete. The troubled project had its release date postponed for a year and saw Gilliam walk away at one point to do another movie.

The Brothers Grimm stars Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as Will and Jake Grimm, the famed fairy-tale authors, but it isn’t a biopic. It is a Ghostbusters-like fantasy, with the Grimm brothers as con artists pretending to defeat the spirits haunting European villages. When the evil Delatombe (a funny Jonathan Pryce) forces them to work for him, the Grimms must investigate the mystery of some children who went missing near an allegedly enchanted forest.

The setup provides for all sorts of visual splendor, and Gilliam manages some magical sequences. Unfortunately, the big budget gives the director his first opportunity to mess around with CGI, and the results are mixed. A scene featuring an evil appearance from the Gingerbread Man stands as one of the worst-looking effects Gilliam has ever put to screen.

Damon and Ledger do make much of the film enjoyable, especially in the moments where the Grimms come off as hapless cowards (Damon does a nice job of screaming like a pansy). Ehren Kruger’s script is scattershot, often stranding the leads in a story that never really takes full shape. But Damon and Ledger do have good chemistry, selling themselves as brothers and garnering enough sympathy for their plights.

Peter Stormare, sporting a tedious Italian accent, wears out his welcome fast as Delatombe’s right-hand man. As the female lead, a fur trapper who lost some of her family to the enchanted woods, Lena Headey is lifeless (Gilliam wanted Samantha Morton, but the Weinsteins nixed that plan). Monica Bellucci, as a murderous queen seeking the blood of children to replenish her youth, is reduced to nothing more than a beautiful special effect.

Could this have been a better film without studio meddling? Hard to say. Morton is a terrific actress, and Gilliam was right to seek her out. Headey has plenty of bland screen time; so many movie minutes could’ve had Morton’s spark. Also, the studio supposedly forced some major cuts, which could account for the film’s discombobulated feel. Still, given Kruger’s script record (The Skeleton Key and Scream 3), the project had a strike against it from the start.

With all of its problems, The Brothers Grimm is still a decent enough movie and a testament to Gilliam’s touch. The project could’ve been total trash in a lesser director’s hands, but Gilliam breathes life into enough of it to make it worthwhile.

Of course, simply worthwhile amounts to mild disappointment when it comes to a master like Gilliam. His talents could’ve been better used elsewhere. Hopefully, his next project, Tideland, will amount to classic cinema instead of a mildly interesting diversion.