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Matt Damon as Wilhelm Grimm
Heath Ledger as Jacob Grimm
Monica Bellucci as Mirror Queen
Lena Headey as Angelika
Jonathan Pryce as Delatombe
Martin Kavan as Delatombe's Valet
Peter Stormare as Cavaldi
Mackenzie Crook as Hidlick
Richard Ridings as Bunst
Tomás Hanák as Woodsman
Deborah Hyde as Corpse Queen
Miroslav Táborsky´ as Old Miller
Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Mayor
Marika Sarah Procházková as Miller's Daughter
Alena Jakobova as Red Hooded Girl
Julian Bleach as Letorc
Bruce MacEwen as Dax
Denisa Vokurkova as Greta
Martin Svetlik as Hans
The Brothers Grimm is a departure into more mainstream territory for filmmaker Terry Gilliam, but it maintains the dark humor and wonder that his fans have come to expect and appreciate.
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm (Damon, Ledger) are witch hunters who find superstitious and gullible townsfolk to pay them to exorcise their witches, usually created by the brothers using cheap effects. When the brothers—they've yet to get the capital B in this point in their careers--are busted for their con-jobs, they're forced to find the young girls of a village who have mysteriously disappeared, forcing them to take on a supernatural threat for which they're quite unprepared.
After six years and a gritty foray into the mind of Hunter S. Thompson, director Terry Gilliam returns to the fantasy and fairy tales that are so much better suited for his child-like sense of wonder. Like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, he takes a different approach to the storytelling brothers' classic tales, going behind the curtains of myth to create an action-adventure unlike anything we've seen from Gilliam previously.
Like all the best fairy tales, Brothers Grimm starts with "Once Upon A Time…" but because it's Terry Gilliam at the helm, you know not the expect the usual saccharine-sweet children's stories, but rather the darker and more menacing side of the Grimms' stories which involved granny-eating wolves and child-baking witches. Although we do get brief glimpses of classic Grimm characters like Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood, the story penned by The Ring's Ehren Kruger, is really about the two brothers and how they work through their differences to take on a menace that is beyond their normal means.
By now, you might have heard about the production problems and creative differences that plagued this film for years. Not that this is anything unfamiliar to Gilliam, since almost all his movies have generated rumors of similar problems, but expectations from Gilliam's fans who have been waiting for so long for a new film may be colored. Fortunately, the end results prove once again that it doesn't matter how rigorous the journey may be, if the view is worth it.
And visually, Brothers Grimm is worth it. With one of his biggest budgets to date, Gilliam assembled a talented team that has stretched his vision beyond previous limitations to create a dark and magical world of living forests, towering castles and garish period costumes that add weight and credibility to the fantasy. Because of the setting, there isn't as much room for Gilliam's wry socio-political humor, but it still seems like such a logical extension from his past work, as his dark sense of humor keeps it firmly in the same vein as Munchausen and The Fisher King. The biggest difference is that there's a lot more action, which is all filmed in stimulating ways by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, who also shot both X-Men films.
On the other hand, the CGI is the movie's weak link, because it looks cheesy and low budget compared to the amazing sets. While the bugs and birds that make up the villain's roster are pretty cool, the "Big Bad Wolf" of the Grimm stories looks too much like something from Van Helsing, although the transformation into its other form is done in a unique and interesting way. Otherwise, the entire film looks as good or better than any of Gilliam's previous films, and Dario Marionelli's score is equally gorgeous and perfect.
Although there are a few weak moments in the script, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger do a decent job selling themselves as these reluctant adventuring brothers, Will, the brash woman-chaser and Jacob, the dreamer. It's interesting that both actors are playing against their normal type, but their solid chemistry keeps things entertaining. At first, their acting is a bit hammy and slapstick, but as the film progresses, you really start to believe in these characters and caring about them, as an intricate dynamic develops between them, particularly when the beautiful Angelika, a great find in Lena Headey, comes between them.
Of course, every Gilliam movie has to have at least one over-the-top scenery munching character, and who better to play General Cavaldi than Peter Stormare, who has made a career out of such roles? His character is certainly the most annoying part of the film, but if you think about it, he's really no crazier than some of the Python characters like the French knight from Holy Grail. Likewise, Monica Belluci goes a bit over board on the melodrama as the villainous Mirror Queen of Grimm legend, but at least one or two old Gilliam acquaintances make appearances, like Jonathan Pryce, Gilliam's hero from Brazil, this time playing the evil bad guy. The fact that Pirates of the Caribbean shares a few of the same cast as Grimms makes you realize how widespread Gilliam's influence has spread.
The Bottom Line:
Like the Grimms' original fairy tales, this action-fantasy is probably going to be too dark and scary for younger children, but for older kids wanting to escape reality for a few hours, Gilliam's inventive take on the literary characters should satisfy. It's certainly Gilliam's most mainstream and entertaining film to date.