Starring: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci, Jonathan Pryce, Lena Headey
Running time: 118 mins
The Brothers Grimm is an original take on the authors of the famed fairy tales. Set in the early 19th Century in French-occupied Germany, it portrays Wilhelm (Damon) and Jacob (Ledger) Grimm as the leaders of a quartet of con-artists who create elaborate hoaxes such as witches that plague villages and trolls under bridges in order to save terrified villagers from their bogus problems. However, when a French general Delatombe (Pryce) sends them to remedy a witch problem in an enchanted forest, they must prove their worth in a battle against a genuine wicked witch (Bellucci).
As can be expected from Gilliam, the film looks great. The scenery gives great atmosphere, especially in the misty, dank enchanted wood which has a very spooky feel to it. Even though the CGI can be quite dodgy and unconvincing at times, it has allowed his imagination to come through which can only be a good thing, even though producers the Weinstein brothers seem to have stopped it from running as wild as it could.
Equally, the performances are on the whole pretty solid. Heath Ledger is particularly good as the thoughtful, awkward romantic Jake, with Damon also doing fairly well as the cynical, womanising Will. Combined, they make an enjoyable bickering double act, although less convincing is chemistry between either brother and Headey’s Angelika, a feisty trapper who helps the pair in their quest. We’re supposed to believe that both of them share a ‘true love’ for her, although really there’s little evidence to suggest any such thing since their relationship never seems to develop properly, despite Ledger’s best efforts. Peter Stormare is completely over-the-top as Cavaldi, and although the character is intentionally OTT, he soon becomes plain annoying and provokes only a few of his intended laughs.
Cavaldi brings with a problem found in the rest of the film, which is that there seems to be little logic to him. He seems to jump from one extreme of hating our heroes to singing their praises at the drop of a hat with no noticeable transition in between. Similarly, it’s not always explicitly clear how one event leads to another, or why characters decide to do what they do, leaving the audience to piece things together more than they ought to have to.
Finally, it’s never really clear what exactly The Brothers Grimm is intended to be. At some points it wants to be a semi-serious picture about how the Grimms’ tales may have been inspired, using some generally neat and also some satisfyingly subtle references to their stories, even though a malevolent gingerbread man birthed from a well of mud may be seen as a rather contrived attempt at including as many as possible. On the other hand, it can descend into slapstick humour as epitomised by the ridiculous Cavaldi. The film bounces around from horror to comedy (which isn’t as effective as might be expected) to fairytale, leaving the audience confused as to how to react. Again, this introduces pacing problems, with the characters’ relationships having no real development and just changing when the storyline makes it necessary – the audience has to fill in the blanks.
The Brothers Grimm is far from being a disaster but it’s hardly excellent either. It’s a film of quite a few very good moments connected by unfortunately less-inspired parts with its hopping between drama, action and comedy hardly helping the flow. All in all it’s a great film visually, but is unlikely to be remembered fondly by many.