The Brothers Grimm is an adventure story based on the (likely to be wholly fictitious) story of the titular fairy tale writers and starring the late Heath Ledger and an unusually blonde Matt Damon with support from Jonathan Pryce and Monica Bellucci. It’s directed by Terry Gilliam and it really shows.
GIlliam is one of those directors who is never quite as good, to me, as some of the mad ideas swirling around him. He manages to tap into a mad, frenetic energy and an off kilter sensibility, but some of his story telling and choice of shot is lacking. There are a lot of points in the film where, as much as I was enjoying it, the flow of action is fragmented and it is unclear what has happened. Actions you see the aftermath of, shots that are staged so you miss the main action or the cuts are needlessly confusing and moments you knew could be grander. Part of this could be down to some poor special effects (which, I think, the film self satirises) but partially it is down to the direction.
The brothers are a pair of conmen travelling through French occupied Germany, who capitalise on local myths to scare locals into hiring them as monster slayers. They then “slay” the monsters of their own creation and gain notoriety and riches. Unfortunately, they come to the attention of the French authorities who task them with uncovering the truth behind the disappearance of nine local girls in a forest. The brothers initially believe it to be the work of conmen acting in a similar manner to themselves and there is a great running gag with Damon giving a running commentary as to how certain effects would be achieved and bemoaning the fact this trickery is being created on a budget far in excess of his own.
It becomes apparent, however, that real magic is at work. The sheer number of fairytale references that are worked into the story are staggering, and also nods to the work of the brothers. The villages themselves are spectacular creations and rich in detail and visually inventive, with the woodland locations suitably atmospheric and creepy. The film has a slight hint of earthy decrepitness that suits the story but also acts as juxtaposition to the shinier and brighter fairytales we usually see on the big screen.
Some of the ideas are brilliant: the spiders that form a motif and enable some creepy and scary magic, the shifting forest and aggressive trees, the very odd banquet of French aristocracy, the showmanship and dazzle the brothers employ. Unfortunately they are not all fully realised due to the budgetary constraints and the direction. The acting is consistently strong and Damon’s accent is surprisingly good. Unfortunately both Pryce and Bellucci are largely wasted, but they both bring appropriate strengths to their characters.
The Brothers Grimm is an enjoyable and dark film that has enough inventiveness and charm to overcome its needless constraints and flaws.