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
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
Andrew: That’s it! We’re taking this outside.
Laura’s Rating: 5 out of 10
Andrew’s Rating: 8 out of 10