August 29, 2005

The Brothers Grimm

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I’ve been anticipating this movie for an entire year. Now before you start making assumptions about what type of deprived existence I must be subject to, please understand that I may have a thing for quirky period movies of the Sleepy Hollow variety but more likely, boyishly charming actors of the Matt Damon variety.

Womanizing Will (Matt Damon) and bookish Jacob (Heath Ledger) are the brothers Grimm, self-appointed vanquishers of enchantments but con artists in reality. The Grimms profit from village to village by initially enacting old folktales and then subsequently “coming to the rescue” of the afflicted villagers for a hefty fee, of course. They go about, happily carousing and boozing their way through late 1700, French-occupied Germany until suddenly captured by French General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce). Then a deal is made.

The Grimms must journey to the village of Marbaden where eleven girls have gone missing due to an “enchanted forest.” Delatombe is certain that a group of con artists similar to the Grimms are behind the disappearances and forces the two brothers to rid him of this nuisance. Unfortunately, nobody counted on the Marbaden forest to actually be enchanted, thanks to the meddling of a 500-year-old evil queen (Monica Bellucci).

Funny at times, although always in a gruesome way, Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm feels too much like an attempt rather than a coherent success. The characters go about in a frenetic frenzy for much of the film: waving their hands, making declarative statements and traveling from one emotional extreme to the next. What results is a tragic lack of solid characters as well as an ongoing theme of moral ambiguity, and not in the good way either. There’s no internal character turmoil, merely external audience confusion. Although the film’s pacing moves along quickly enough, plot progression often results from convenient coincidences pushing the envelope of even movie reality.

Despite an awkwardly stilted speech pattern and unnaturally patchy facial hair, Ledger was somewhat likeable as the idealistic, younger Grimm brother. There was also Angelika (Lena Headey), a trapper from the village of Marbaden, who reminded me of a poor man’s Keira Knightley (think defiant, capable, tomboyish yet hot female lead) who herself is ironically a poor man’s Natalie Portman. Damon, and I’m sad to say this, delivered a more or less “blah” performance, leaving you with the feeling that he was maybe allocating 40 percent of his attention at most to playing Will Grimm.

Despite such cast mediocrities, expect to be somewhat amused by Pryce’s deliciously overdone French accent. And as always, The Brothers Grimm will be just one of a dozen movies that exemplify the beauty of typecasting. With Bellucci’s extensive experience at playing exotic, ridiculously costumed femme fatales (Dracula, The Matrix trilogy, Brotherhood of the Wolf), you know you’re going to be getting a performance oozing with sexuality and innuendo. There is also Peter Stormare as Cavaldi, General Delatombe’s greasy, cruel Italian torturer. Despite his unfamiliar name, I’ll guarantee that you’ll know his face, since the man has essentially found a niche for himself in Hollywood playing morally ambiguous sleazeballs with some unidentifiable Eastern European accent who have definitely ignored the finer points of that whole “showering” fad.

Beautifully designed and visualized, the Brothers Grimm is also flavored with cameos from all your favorite Grimm fairytales. Gilliam seamlessly works in these little details with careful thought, and I must admit, they do work. What efforts Gilliam must have dedicated to aesthetic presentation is unfortunately not present in his movie’s actual content. The film’s fatal flaw is similar to the plight of Gilliam’s title characters: It’s when you eliminate all the smoke and mirrors that things start looking grim.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang
Arts and Entertainment Editor