Brothers Grimm, The (2005)

Starring Heath Ledger (Jacob Grimm), Matt Damon (Willhelm Grimm), Peter Stormare (Cavaldi), Jonathan Pryce (Delatombe), Lena Heady (Angelika), Monica Bellucci (Evil Queen)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

What could be more fun than a dark fairy tale inhabited by two of the darkest talespinners in the great history of storytelling? How about such a tale in the hands of Terry Gilliam? Now add some impressive performers dolled up in gorgeous costumes and let them roam around gorgeous sets, beset upon by monsters both human and supernatural, and I’m sure it won’t be too difficult for you to be tempted by such a juicy morsel right?

The Brothers Grimm certainly appears to be all that and more, but truth be told it’s severely lacking; a fakery treading the periphery of horror and wonder. Some poison apple right? Or perhaps, a familiar handful of beans…

One of the reasons why fairy tales have endured for so long isn’t solely because Walt Disney got his hands on them, but because we love to hear these sordidly darkstories, more like warnings, and we remember what they were like when we heard them for the first time.

These stories, full of danger and magic and heartbreak; dramatic tales of deceit and despair, stories of triumph, but prefaced with loss. The bittersweet ending of a fairy tale is rarely matched by even the most oversaturated soap opera. It’s this careful tread between good and evil with a “monkey’s paw” sensibility that has kept the tradition of the fairy tale alive and well for hundreds of years.

And with The Brothers Grimm I thought we’d have yet another creep filled adventure to cherish for years to come. But unlike the savvy hero of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” (who we do not get to meet here but you should look up anyway), Gilliam’s take on a screenplay by Ehren Kruger has missed the boat and will never fully uncover the secrets hiding just within its reach. Unfortunately neither will we.

Strangely enough, the faults of The Brothers Grimm the movie parallel the faults of the Brothers Grimm the characters. Here, we have an alternate “what if” version on the lives of two historical figures responsible for countless sleepless nights.

Jake and Will Grimm are famous but not for telling stories, at least not in a traditional sense. Instead, they hook and crook naïve villagers by ridding them of false enchantments and manufactured night creatures. This predatory life of swindling is instigated by Will, all business, and dreamed up by the scholarly Jake. The brothers eke out their living as charlatans with sideshow trickery and props walking away with profits earned on lies, gleaned from folklore. It’s their livelihood of lies that land them directly in the path of true evil and enchantment, forcing them to take a turn in the shoes of those they’ve so often ripped off, as well as giving them a chance at redemption and forgiveness.

In a funny and disappointing turn of irony TBG plays out the way an impatient child might tear through a book of fairy tales, heading straight for the pictures with little care for the real meat: the story.

However, unlike many children who eventually learn that you do have to stop and read the words along the way to really appreciate the pictures, The Brothers Grimm delivers only passing glances at what would ultimately have made this a strong and highly entertaining movie. It can’t help but suffer from too much focus on unimportant situations, too many secondary characters, more than one villain, not enough fairy tale and really, simply not enough Bros. Grimm.

In addition to the confused priorities of plot and characters there’s also a glut of almost slapstick-level comedy coming from Peter Stormare’s Cavaldi – so much that you might think you’ve wandered into someone else’s forest if not for the absence of a laugh track.

Also adding to the disjointed tone is an awkward love triangle between the brothers and Lena Heady’s Angelika, a character who I feel is the weakest overall. She seems to have been created solely for the sake of convenience: at one point providing additional conflict for the brothers and in the end, providing a very convenient resolution fitting in with the fairy tale theme just in the nick of time as they say, and just in time for the credits.

Mixed in with the cons, however, the pros do make the movie worth watching at least once.

Populated with nods to widely known classics on top of a plethora of other fairy tale derived moments and situations, TBG does exhibit more than a fair share of appropriately delivered humor. The performances by Heath Ledger and Matt Damon are unusually quirky and very fun and there really hasn’t been one fairer or so simultaneously ethereal and sinister than Monica Bellucci in quite some time. As previously stated the costumes and sets are top shelf and the musical score is well balanced, but style over substance is just not enough to save the day.

So while most children learn that the pictures in their storybooks are only interesting for so long and happily ever after won’t really matter much when the journey there is a shortcut of missed opportunity, The Brothers Grimm misses this lesson entirely, leaving behind not much more than a movie similar to many a fairy tale prop; it’s just not as magical as you might have first thought.

3 out of 5

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