home : news : reviews : features : fiction : podcast : blogs : t-shirts : wtf?

The Brothers Grimm
Reviewed by Andrew Kozma, Laura Eldred, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Terry Gilliam
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   August 26, 2005
Review Date:   September 06, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated R
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Andrew: The Brothers Grimm is certainly a Terry Gilliam movie. This is undeniable, in the execution, in the design, and in the types of characters and what problems they face. However, if you’re expecting another Brazil (say its long-promised sequel, Peru) or 12½ Monkeys (now starring Kim Basinger) you’ll probably be disappointed. The Brothers Grimm has neither the hypnotic darkness of those two movies nor the wild flights of fancy of Baron Munchausen and Time Bandits.

There, now you should know whether you should see the movie or not. See, this review wasn’t all that hard to stomach.

Andrew: Um . . . perhaps there’s a little more to say. For example, I’m a Gilliam fiend. It would be hard for him to make a movie I wouldn’t enjoy, if only because of the various Gilliamesque touches that would be all over (and maybe obscure) the final product. Truthfully, I can’t tell if I enjoyed The Brothers Grimm because it’s a good movie (albeit, with flaws) or because it’s a Gilliam film. If this film wasn’t by Gilliam, would I think it seriously flawed fluff, lightweight spludge, or a cult film in utero?

I have no idea.

Laura: I have that idea that you seem to have lost. I should say, given Andrew’s comments above, that I am no hater of the Gilliam. Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Baron Munchhausen = great films, good times. Twisty, weird plots, hilarious moments, surreal imagery. But for me, since I liked those films, The Brothers Grimm seemed like that much more of a disappointment: something that could have been good ruined, made boring and predictable. While I agree that the film has some fun Gilliam touches (I particularly liked when Will licked the giant toad’s belly and told the toad, “If I’m not doing it the way you like, let me know.”), it seemed to me like some weird hybrid of Hollywood expectations and Gilliam-osity: a hybrid that turned the usually fun Gilliamness into rather uninspired dreck. OK, that’s stridently put, but I went to see the film with two friends (all of us excited by the existence of this film) and we all left feeling cheated. The final scenes are incredibly predictable for anyone who’s ever read a fairytale, but it takes Jacob and Will (Heath Ledger and Matt Damon) two hours to get there. The plot then isn’t twisty or interesting or mysterious — it seems, instead, derivative and contrived.

Andrew: I’m not sure that’s a fair criticism to lay at the movie’s feet. The movie is based on fairy tales, so Gilliam and Ehren Kruger (the screenwriter) had to assume familiarity with the stories involved in the film. The movie doesn’t rely on intriguing resolutions of final scenes, because once we know we’re in a fairy tale, we also know how it is going to end. What pull the viewer through the movie aren’t the set-pieces or the larger framework of the plot, but everything that surrounds it. In the final scene with the witch, for example, it’s the interaction between Jacob, Will, and (tangentially) Angelika’s father that carries the weight.

Laura: It may be apparent at this point that Andrew and I disagree on the merits of this film. We hereby dub this review “Dueling Review.” Insert your own banjo music.

Andrew: What I do know is that the film troubles me on levels that a normal, non-Gilliam film would not. There are no heroes in this film, at least not of the type audiences usually expect. The main brothers, Jacob and Will are not only anti-heroes, they are also hard to like in a way not completely unlike Sam Lowry in Brazil. And this like/dislike dichotomy is not a comment on their actions in the film — thieves, of course, can be terribly charismatic — so much as a demonstration of their basic characters. Over the course of the film, my allegiance kept shifting between which brother I thought I, as audience, was supposed to identify with more. I always rooted for Jacob, but Gilliam makes the movie unstable, and probably more realistic, in that each brother rises or falls in different situations, so at times I was ashamed to be on Jacob’s side.

Laura: OK, you’re right, it could possibly be interesting to have a predictable plot and to have unlikable characters. (Just as it is also possible, technically, for me to dislike a movie with Bruce Campbell in it. These are, of course, entirely hypothetical.) But you need to give the audience something else to hold onto, to be invested in, if you’re going to dispense with audience identification. I didn’t find anything in this film. The actually funny comedic moments didn’t happen often enough. Snazzy special effects or a sufficiently interesting plot could have substituted for audience identification, but these weren’t really followed through on. There were a couple snazzy special effects — moving trees and the tar baby scene — but really the special effects were nothing to write your schoolyard buds about.

As far as the plot, it seemed, to me, predictable at each turn, and not really in an “ooh, I’m being PURPOSEFULLY predictable so as to destabilize your expectations” sort of way. It, somewhat pretentiously, focuses on the importance of “stories” without ever quite being sure what that means — insisting that various characters can write their own “endings” and thus be in control of their fate. This is garden-variety postmodernism. Not that I have anything against postmodernism, but surely by now we’ve heard this story before? Metafictional magic realism postmodernist films have been around for a while: anyone see Big Fish? This is the same movie, but without the extra cool dancing Siamese twins. Though Big Fish didn’t have an extra cute giant toad, so that’s a point in The Brothers Grimm’s favor.

The film also doesn’t seem sure what it wants to do with this emphasis on the importance of stories, alternatively insisting that these folk tales are already written (so the thing to do is remember or know the proper ending) AND that they aren’t written (so the thing to do is write your own ending). It would be possible to interpret this as some fancy literary footwork (perhaps demonstrating the characters’ confusion over the degree of control they have over their own lives), but really it just seems sloppy.

Andrew: A point of fruitful frustration in The Brothers Grimm is the love triangle between Will, Jacob, and Angelika (Lena Headey). It is, strangely enough for movie romances, a true triangle, where the brothers angle for Angelika while also dancing around their familial love for each other. Who wins? No one knows. Feed the hungry hip-hippos. Or watch the movie, spoiler-vulture. Safe to say, the resolution is frustratingly Gilliam, leaving the movie, and us, satisfyingly unsatisfied.

Laura: Satisfying if you like a boring, overdone, predictable plot, unlikable characters, so-so special effects, and a couple decent jokes.

Andrew: That’s it! We’re taking this outside.

Laura’s Rating: 5 out of 10
Andrew’s Rating: 8 out of 10

RevSF Assistant Film Editor Andrew Kozma and RevSF contributor Laura Eldred are starting up a Fight Club near you. Just as soon as they’re released from the hospital.

Recommend Us
  • Send to a Friend
  • Digg This
  • Reddit It
  • Add to del.ic.ious
  • Share at Facebook
  • Discuss!
  • Send Feedback
  • Hobbit Movie
  • Ten outrageously awesome film deaths
  • Hallowe'en Costumes
  • Movie Forum
  • Related Pages
  • Print This Page
  • Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The Quick and Dirty DVD Review
  • George Lucas Sues To Have Missile Shield Named After "Star Wars"
  • Search RevSF
  • New on RevSF
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Book Probe: BattleMaster, Wade of Aquitaine, Kriendria of Amorium
  • RevSF Podcast: Drowning in Moonlight: Remembering Carrie Fisher
  • Logan
  • RevSF Home


    Things From Our Brains
    Get even more out of RevSF.

    Poems where the desert sky opens like the mouth of a dying fish.
    RevolutionSF RSS Feed
    Search RevSF

    Random RevSF
    Sci-ku: Robin

    contact : advertising : submissions : legal : privacy
    RevolutionSF is ™ and © Revolution Web Development, Inc., except as noted.
    Intended for readers age 18 and above.