Gilliam mixes dark with weird in ‘The Brothers Grimm’
August 24, 2005
Terry Gilliam is that rare breed of filmmaker who is tough to pigeonhole. Before directing “Brazil, ” “Twelve Monkeys” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” Gilliam was probably best known as the man behind those off-the-wall Monty Python animations on the small screen. As a director, his vision has gone unappreciated at times, even though I think he is one of the more original directors we have out there today.
“The Brothers Grimm” is Gilliam’s first movie to be released this century, and well worth the wait. There were reported squabbles (make that “creative differences”) between him and the Weinstein brothers (heads of Miramax) that caused Gilliam to express his outrage in the press, but the “time out” gave him an opportunity to finish his other just-completed production, “Tideland.” When studio execs give you lemons …
With a script by Ehren Kruger (“Skeleton Key,” “The Ring,” “Scream 3”), Terry fuses his love of fairytales and folklore of yesteryear to give “Brothers Grimm” an almost non-fiction feel of a true story. His films tend to be shot somewhat dark, devoid of any color, setting up the obvious mood for whatever scene he wants to focus on. Then again, he is all over the timeline in his movies, so, in his mind at least, things from the past appear to be drab.
Nothing drab, though, about his latest venture, which is epic in its over-the-top story about medieval Ghostbusters Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger). They have developed quite the scam: traveling to rural German villages, promising to rid the populace of witches, superstitious happenings and, yes, evil that lurks in those dark forests – all for a handsome fee. It’s all rubbish, of course, until the brothers are sentenced by the French for deceptive practices, only to have their lives spared if they can rid real demons who are responsible for abducting children in a nearby town. Oh, yes – the forests where children check in but … never seem to check out.
Borrowing heavily from Python-esque imagery, as with “Time Bandits” and “Jabberwocky,” Gilliam blends the dark with the weird and takes us to a place that is anything but the norm. And, sure, there are a few flaws here (I trust Damon didn’t take dialect lessons from Kevin Costner), but overall the movie has this fantastic escapist feel to it, and isn’t that what a movie is supposed to do?
There’s a parallel in the movie between the director and Heath Ledger’s character, Jacob. Both were taken in by folk tales of their youth. Damon’s character, Wilhelm, is more the realist, so it’s interesting seeing the direction he takes, and Gilliam seeing himself in that role had he taken the other road, which would have altered his future into a more pragmatic lifestyle. Kind of like your parents telling you to major in business administration in college because your chances of employment increase dramatically, instead of majoring in the arts. Well, in their eyes at least.
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“The Brothers Grimm” ebbs back and forth like a mood swing of extreme proportions. Complementing those swings is a cast that is as quirky as its director. Monica Belucci is well cast as the aging sorceress, the Mirror Queen, while Lena Headley as Angelika likes to kiss a toad for medicinal purposes. Peter Stomare is very enchanting, and then there’s the always-versatile Jonathan Pryce. He is one of the most underrated actors who can work both stage and screen with such ease, making it all look so effortless. As the French governor Delatombe, Pryce plays the role with such bravado that I wonder if he had a few shots with Gilliam to get into character?
Although rated PG-13, I would say this movie, shot on location within the Czech Republic, is more for adults with a little kid inside of them, instead of merely for kids, because of its intense plotline.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv Comedy Club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada. He co-hosts the morning show on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8 and weekends on KMTN television here in South Lake Tahoe.