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With: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci, Jonathan Pryce, Lena Headey, Peter Stormare
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, frightening sequences and brief suggestive material
Running Time: 119
Date: 08/26/2005

The Brothers Grimm (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Grimm' Pickings

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Whatever its drawbacks, the 2003 documentary Lost in La Mancha interestingly underlined the similarities between film directors Terry Gilliam and Orson Welles. Both had attempted and failed to complete a film of Don Quixote, and both were mavericks with visions too powerful to be contained by shortsighted Hollywood studios.

So, if Gilliam is like a modern-day Welles, then his likable new film The Brothers Grimm could be the equivalent of Welles' studio-butchered The Magnificent Ambersons. Produced by scissor-happy mogul Harvey Weinstein, it's clear that the choppy Brothers Grimm doesn't flow quite as well as it might have.

And in truth, Gilliam was hamstrung at the start, working from a script by the prodigiously uninteresting Ehren Kruger, author of Reindeer Games, Scream 3, The Skeleton Key and other bargain bin items.

The Brothers Grimm begins with an Unrelated Incident, which is a lazy way to establish our characters without actually bothering with the story. We meet Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) and Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger), who are not yet the brothers who would become famous for their gory fairy tales, although Jacob does jot ideas down in a notebook for future reference.

For now, they work as a kind of medieval ghostbusters, using trickery to create phony ghosts and witches and then vanquishing them for pay. It follows, then, that the boys will be forced to bust some genuine ghosts. In this case, a vain, ethereal queen (Monica Bellucci) who lives in a haunted wood is kidnapping little girls in order to restore her youth and beauty. A beautiful, stubborn lady archer (Lena Headey) lends the boys a hand, creating a lukewarm love interest for Jacob.

In the midst of all this pandemonium, moments of Gilliam's awe-inspiring vision swirl around like the black crows and dead leaves that pepper the film's woodsy fabric. Giant, swooshing shots of astonishing perspective intermingle with bawdy, quasi-Monty Python humor. And Damon and Ledger and their co-stars Peter Stormare and Jonathan Pryce -- playing French villains -- eagerly participate.

Indeed, Gilliam's signature style is so distinctive that no studio meddling could entirely squelch it. The Brothers Grimm is not so much a butchered masterpiece as it is a concession, more like Welles' The Stranger. It's Gilliam's attempt at making a regular, mainstream entertainment, just to show that he can. It's ultimately a minor Gilliam, but still superior to almost anything else the dream factory has recently cranked out.

DVD Details: At last! Truth in commentary tracks. Within the first two minutes, Gilliam admits that he didn't like the script for The Brothers Grimm and that he took the job because he had been out of work for a long time (since 1998). Nevertheless, I still maintain that Gilliam made something worth watching out of something not worth reading. The disc also comes with deleted scenes and two featurettes.

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