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Culture Reviews
The Brothers Grimm
Directed by: Terry Gilliam. Written by: Ehren Kruger. Starring: Matt Damon, Lena Headey, Heath Ledger, Jonathan Pryce, Peter Stormare. 118 mins. Czech Republic / USA.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: an adventure-comedy-fantasy-horror-thriller type thing. Great cinematography but lame story.

The key problem is that the core characters simply do not have the presence on screen to bind the facets of the story into one believable whole.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: the visual aspects of the film are enough for you
No, if: if you are a fan of Gilliam’s great work such as “Brazil,” “Twelve Monkeys” and “The Fisher King”
Maybe, if: somebody dropped an illegal substance in your orange juice an hour or two ago and the walls are beginning to look furry

Comments: this is one for the plebs. Gilliam pretty well said as much. He and Johnny Depp did a deal: they’d make a “popularist” film each to get the bread together to collaborate on a real film. One that they really wanted to make.

So this was Gilliam’s attempt to make something to appeal to the unwashed: lots of visual effects and wisecracks for the people in the cheap seats. I don’t have a problem with that per se. The problem is, the result here is a lacking conviction and is a poorly constructed plan regardless of the money spent to paper over the cracks.

I am a serious Gilliam fan. He is one of the few film-makers who, in my view, really can key into what is going on politically in the world and serve it up in such a way that it makes it to market (admitted, by the skin of its teeth at times).

Although a little dated now, his “Brazil” is still my number-one film. I sensed its prophetic quality when I first watched it twenty years ago and events, sadly, are proving my intuition right. It was so close to the mark, it almost failed to get distribution. Gilliam put it on in a cinema himself and word-of-mouth compelled a distribution deal. If you haven’t seen it, you really should.

So why doesn’t Gilliam just stick to making great films? Because he can’t. The world isn’t made that way. If you want to get funding for “real” films, the Hollywood masters insist that you humiliate yourself and debase your talent first by producing a firework display for the masses.

“The Brothers Grimm” is such a film.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story:
• Dialogue:
• Substance:
• Film craft: *****

Story comments: the story is an unconvincing, cobbling-together of various fairy tales. And while the motifs from stories you had read to you as a child are wheeled out and given a good dumbing down, the whole magic which makes up a fairy tale is processed out of the mix.

Fairy tales have an inherent structure. Things in them happen in threes. Three brothers, three attempts, three journeys. All children know this. This is the genre.

“The Brothers Grimm” seeks to utilise the motifs without submitting to the genre or making the effort to create anything new of value itself. To me, it was a cheap, uninteresting attempt to asset-strip our pre-existing knowledge to no great purpose.

Dialogue comments: Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) and Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) left me indifferent and unmoved. In my view, both were poor casting decisions. The actors simply did not have the presence to carry the film. They looked swamped and overdressed.

The dialogue was fashioned around low-grade riposte. Several lines can be seen coming a mile off and not a few are lifted from other films. The whole was tiresome and a little depressing.

I would suggest looking at the great Russian film “The Very Same Munchausen” for a comparison. There, Oleg Yankovsky’s charm creates a convincing magic – and that without the aid of all the computer graphics found in “The Brothers Grimm.”

Substance comments: I suppose the film is trying to arrogate to itself some sort of significance but I couldn’t work out what it was.

Film craft: exquisite. If this is why you go to the cinema, you’ll have a great time. The film is brilliantly executed visually. The sets all looked like they had been built for an excellent film, as well. The only problem was that this film wasn’t it.

A taste of the story: Will and Jake Grimm are travelling con-artists who encounter a genuine fairy-tale curse which requires real courage instead of their usual bogus exorcisms.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

17.09.05
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