Thee three nicest words I could use to describe The Brothers Grimm would be innovative, ambitious and visually arresting. Okay, that’s four words, I know, but saying “pretty” felt juvenile. Now the three worst words I could come up with would be pointless, scattered and boring. In my book the negatives far outweigh the positives for this film.
Terry Gilliam has some amazing films under his belt. Brazil, the always underrated Twelve Monkeys and the genre defining Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail. Looking at a resume like that you can’t help but notice an astounding amount of range too. And yet, it’s been ten years since this guy’s made a decent film. We may need to put a fork in him, he may be done.
The plot is simple. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger play brothers who are hucksters, con-men, who travel from town to town “curing” the backwards people of witches, ghosts and the like. We’re given one showing of this job, and it’s here where the film feels freshest. The point of conflict is that Damon believes in nothing but taking money from rubes, whereas Ledger believes in everything magical even though he helps dupe the unsuspecting. It’s a strange conflict right off the bat because Ledger plays his character as someone who is at least a little mentally disabled, and Damon seems far too clever to be bothering with this sort of oddball work. Events then conspire to put the brothers into a world where magic does exist and we go from there. One nice tiny part as an assistant to the brothers is Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from “The Office”). We needed more of him, early and often.
The Brother’s Grimm meanders among the genres for most of its running time. The film is part fantasy, it pays homage to horror every once in a while, it has tiny bits of adventure and romance too. Comedy? Well, I think they are going for that, and there are amusing bits, but you’d be stretching to call this a comedy with the way it has been lit and shot. It feels and looks dark and washed. If you took Big Fish and combined it with A Very Long Engagement and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow you’d arrive at the visual feel of this film. Washed, bright, dark, ancient looking, interesting, but in no way funny. Everything appears a couple layers beneath the surface, as if you are watching it through an aquarium.
The real problem with the movie is that it doesn’t take itself seriously like most successful fantasy movies (Lord of The Rings, The Never Ending Story). It’s not nearly funny enough to be considered comedy. It’s not effective suspense or horror, which leaves us with this odd little duck of a movie. If the audience is going to buy in to all the wackiness going on with long dead witches, spells and moving trees, don’t you at least owe it to them to buy into it yourself with the script? And this is where the pretty (okay, I used it) visual style actually cripples the movie. We’re in this amazing foreign world, our eyes tell us so, and yet everyone auditions for Letterman every 15 minutes or so. And then they run for their lives. So it doesn’t add up in any meaningful way and it will be swept away like so many other flawed movies in this summer of box-office hell. A summer where the entertainers forgot to entertain.