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AT THE MOVIES: Tall Tales and Shortcomings: The Brother’s Grimm (*)

Now that the dust has settled on The Brothers Grimm, the blame is being divided among those involved – the Harvey and Bob Weinstein meddling, director Terry Gilliam’s thusly thwarted creativity – and what appears to be left is a something vaguely resembling one of the half-formed monsters in John Carpenter’s The Thing – not quite the creature it intended to be but no longer itself either – an unrecognizable grotesquerie.  Such is, unfortunately, the sum and total of the cinematic failure, The Brothers Grimm.

With a script that was once attributed to Ehren Kruger, but was then toyed with by Gilliam and his writing partner, Tony Grisoni, The Brothers Grimm is one dull affair, despite the efforts on the parts of everyone involved, least of all its two stars – a blonded Matt Damon as Wilhelm and Heath Ledger as his flustered, confused sidekick  Jacob.  Gilliam has thrown in many lovely gadgets and a terrifying image or two, but in the end, this concoction offers up very little in the way of humor or insight or even, alas, entertainment.

The premise is promising in a “Shrek” sort of way – two brothers take advantage of peasants who believe in folklore by creating fake witches and the like, scaring a town half to death before they ride in on horseback and kill the monsters they themselves created.  Naturally, they encounter a real menace – an enchanted forest that is alive and stealing little girls from a nearby German village. 

There is a political subplot hardly worth going into as it is the least engaging part of the film but, suffice it to say, it involves a French invasion and an unbearable Italian general somehow forcing the brothers to go to the haunted German town and stop the kidnapping of little girls.  Sigh.  Really, it’s like one of those salads  you make for a dinner party that has so much stuff in it, it’s been rendered inedible. 

Gilliam made known his complaints about the Weinsteins’  usual dominance over the production – they like to work with artistic wunderkinds like Gilliam and Scorsese, but then they must somehow prove that they know how to do it better and so they meddle.  Gilliam wanted the talented Samantha Morton to play the part of Anjelika.  One look at the actress they cast, the lovely Lena Headey and it’s obvious why they dumped Morton.  They were hoping a prettier lass would draw in bigger crowds.  Well, as they now see, no Helen of Troy was she.  And no bucks did the film earn despite the eye candy.  Proving once again that, always, in the end, as William Goldman declared, “Nobody knows anything.”

What remains in the film, the only thing worth seeing it for, is the relationship between the two brothers.  Matt Damon is the only watchable performer, despite his weird shaggy blonde wig and horrible accent.  He at least has some sort of idea what he’s supposed to be doing.  Poor Heath Ledger flounders in the part of the more creative Jacob.  You know something is not quite right with the universe when Matt Damon is more appealing than Heath Ledger. 

The Brothers Grimm isn’t a complete waste of time, however – Mr. Gilliam rarely makes his films thoroughly uninteresting – the way the children disappear is good enough to redeem much of the film’s pointlessness.  And there are hints that underneath all of the relentless, manic smoke and mirrors a real story waits to be told.  Unfortunately, no one involved knew how to tell it.   One hopes that Mr. Gilliam finds his voice once again and works with producers who have more faith in what he can do.

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