A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Brothers Grimm

June 20, 2011

The Brothers Grimm

I feel like a traitor when I say that I don’t love this movie. It’s a Terry Gilliam movie about the true fantasy and horror behind farie tales. It stars Matt Damon and Heath Ledger. It has big budget special effects and a cool look to it. It even has Jonathan Pryce for that Brazil/Baron Munchausen touch. It seems custom made to my particular tastes, and yet it somehow doesn’t capture me as it should.

I love the premise of the movie. It posits that the Brothers Grimm, who archived fairy stories in the 1700s, were actually con artists who used superstitious belief in the stories they compiled to trick people into paying them to get rid of witches and demons of their own creation. They are captured by the French authorities, who send them to a little German hamlet that the French believe is the victim of a similar band of hucksters. Of course it turns out that this little village is actually cursed and there is real magic afoot.

I can’t complain about the performances of the three lead cast members either. Matt Damon plays the elder Grimm, Wil, who is a cynic and a weasel. He wants only to find a way out of the fix he and his brother have found themselves in, and maintains long after it should have been impossible to do so that there is a rational explanation for all the bizarre happenings they witness. Heath Ledger is Jacob, the impulsive younger brother, who actually wants to believe that the stories could be true. Between the two of them is Angelika, played by Lena Headey. She is a tough, tortured hunter whose sisters have already gone missing and whose father was taken by wolves. She knows the mysterious ways of the forest, which interests Jacob and irritates Wil.

Take that plot and those performances and Terry Gilliam’s imagination and visual flare and put it all together and you should have an absolutely golden movie. So what went wrong?

I have two primary complaints about the movie. The first is the “comic” relief. We have the two bumbling assistants to the Grimms, for example. They are not particularly funny to start with, much to my disappointment because I enjoy both of the actors portraying them, and ultimately they meet grizzly ends, which just makes me sad. Then there’s the ruthless, torture-mad, crazily accented Italian assassin sent along by the French to keep the Grimms in line. Peter Stormare plays Cavaldi as though he’s trying to steal every scene he’s in – all mad Robin Williams energy – but he’s just not fun to watch. It also robs the movie of much of its power that one of the primary bad-guys (who is supposed to have this great redemption arc) is flamboyant when he should be sinister. The other primary villain, DeLatombe, has the same issue. He’s the despotic French general sent to subdue the superstitious peasants in the German countryside, and he’s the one who not only captures the Grimms but sentences them to their task on pain of torture and death. He’s supposed to be the engine that drives the whole plot, but he’s played so ridiculously by Jonathan Pryce that it makes me want to just skip every scene he’s in. (I liked Pryce much better as the officious bureaucrat bad guy in Muchausen.)

The other issue I have with the movie is that it tries so hard to fit the fairy tales into the horror of the movie. In some cases it works, like the abduction of a girl in a red hood. In some cases it feels laboured and forced, like Hanz and Gretta leaving their trail of bread crumbs. And in some cases it simply doesn’t fit the mood of the story at all and breaks the tension, like when one girl is abducted by a living mud blob (which is fairly terrifying since it steals her mouth and eyes) and it then turns into a ginger-bread man and makes a joke about how delicious it is. The movie is at its best when it keeps things simple and primal. There’s a bewitched werewolf which is a tragic sort of figure and very cool. There’s an evil witch who enchants people using her beautiful reflection. There’s a wonderful scene that Amanda describes as “good old nightmare fuel” when a horse with spiders in its mouth spits out webs and ensnares a helpless girl. And there are the shambling trees with their grasping vines. All of these elements come from no specific story but feel more honest and real than the contrivances meant to link to stories from the Brothers Grimm.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a great, dark, touching fairy tale for adults buried in this movie, but it’s not allowed to come out and be its own entity. Instead it is marginalised by the capering of the supposed villains and confounded by attempts to make the darker story into something that it’s not. It’s as though two movies collided here, and the resulting mess is neither as self referential and amusing as it wants to be nor as dark and sinister as it appears visually. Luckily for us we own the two movies that collided here in their more pure and unadulterated form. The light-hearted and satirical look at fairy stories is Into the Woods, which we’ve already reviewed. The dark fairy tale for adults is the brilliant and astonishing Pan’s Labyrinth, which we will have to review someday soon to remove the sandy taste of disappointment left by this movie.

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June 20, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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