One of the benefits of the streaming platform model is that companies like Netflix give their artists room to breathe and flesh out their creative vision. It took Martin Scorsese years to bring his 2019 film The Irishman to the big screen, since no one wanted to fund his vision. If he can’t dodge the interference of the studio, can you imagine how hard it is for a mid-level film maker to get through? There are countless stories of directors and the studio heads coming to blows, both figuratively and literally. Terry Gilliam, one of the most bizarre, but interesting, directors to be around in the system for over 30 years, faced many of these challenges when making his 2005 comedic fantasy, The Brothers Grimm.
Set in French occupied Germany, during the 1700’s, the film tells the story of the two brothers, Wilhelm and Jacob, who make their living scamming local villages. They have gained a reputation of taking out evil entities that haunt the people of those establishments. Unknown to the naïve citizens is that they use costumes, sound effects, and other props to make the entities appear real then reek the benefits, cash and admiration, of taking them out. Their scam comes to a halt when they are captured by General Cavaldi, who then brings them to be tried before the French court. In exchange for their freedom, they are tasked to go to a village where children are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to local legend, the spirt of an evil Queen is stealing the kids to win back her youth. Wilhelm, who is a skeptic, tries to apply logic to this situation, while Jacob, who believes in a world where the fantastical can happen, thinks that this is their moment to do real some legitimate good.
Gilliam’s films have always been seeped in strangeness. Anyone who is familiar with director’s work knows that his films usually step out of the mainstream line of film making. Even when his films are sold to a wider audience, like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and 12 Monkeys, they contain visuals, themes, and the performances that are weird. An adaptation of Grimm Fairytales would seem like a golden opportunity for him. Unfortunately, the entire production has no solid identity. You can feel the studio interference which results in a very unbalanced tone for the picture. At one moment, the film carries itself as one with a comedic tone, then the other it seems like a fantastical adventure. Both have their moments, but ultimately fall short. Gilliam succeeds better with the comedy thanks to the late Heath Ledger. Jacob is the more physical comedic of the two leads and showcases his physicality perfectly. His performance is reminiscent of a silent film star. On equal footing with Ledger is Peter Stormare, who hams it up as the foil to the brothers. He necessarily isn’t bad but has orders that his simple mind must follow. Ledger’s costar, Matt Damon, plays into the logical mind of Wilhelm, but is upstaged by Heath.
The Grimm Fairy Tales are sprinkled amongst the film: “Little Red Riding Hood” and countless others try to propel the plot forward. While some of these interpretations are cool visualizations, they feel shoehorned into the film. If Gilliam was given full access to go wild, some of these sequences may have been a little more frightening or hard hitting. Instead, paired with 2005 special effects, lousy by the way, it all has an amateur feel. One memorable sequence uses a famous fairy tale character, of the pastry nature, as an antagonistic force. It is one of the few times you can see Gilliam’s creativity peeking out of the mediocrity surrounding this film.
The Brothers Grimm isn’t an awful film, but just a forgettable one. When compared to Gilliam’s other works, it falls lower on the tier. There are interesting ideas here that are buried under the narrative of the typical. Ledger is a joy to watch, giving us evidence to why Nolan was 100% right in picking him to play Joker. Do yourself a favor and watch 12 Monkeys, Brazil, or Fear and Loathing if you want to see the director in full mode.
I am giving The Brothers Grimm a 2.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!