Sunday, January 15, 2012

3 short paragraphs: The Brothers Grimm

2005, Terry Gilliam -- Netflix

There's a reason I put of watching this movie for over 6 years, and it's that I don't trust Terry Gilliam as a director anymore.  There was a time where I was a loyal supporter, where I worshiped blindly at the feet of Python and everything they did was genius, but the reality is no creator is infallable, and it's rare for there to be any creator -- whether actor, painter, writer, director, whathaveyou -- that doesn't drop a deuce as part of their oeuvre.  Moreover, in some cases it's rare that brilliant works are consistently made by the same person, and as I think back through the work of Gilliam, I can point to three, maybe four specific examples of great works (Fear and Loathing, Twelve Monkeys, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Brazil), and the rest range from middling to messy to god awful.

The Brothers Grimm is certainly a mess, and at times it's pretty awful.  It's a film thinks it has an approach to Grimm's Fairy Tales, only to find out, about halfway through, that it really doesn't.  Heath Ledger and Matt Damon are terribly miscast as schyster brothers who con countryfolk of 18th century French-occupied Germany out of their money and possessions by first perpetrating elaborate hauntings upon them and then charging a service fee to exorcise their town of the demons.  They are arrested by French military, as they believe them to be responsible for a series of child disappearances in another town, but offering them a chance at freedom if they uncover the real culprits.  Of course, the real cause is indeed mystical in nature and the brothers are ill prepared to handle it, thankfully a tough, humourless, sexy, and cursed maiden (played by Lena Hedley) is there to guide them through it, while also causing tension between the brothers as each fancies her.

As with practically every Gilliam film, there's so much more drama behind the scenes than there is on-camera, and though its problems are many, chief amongst them is Matt Damon, who is a man out of time and wholly inappropriate for the role he plays.  Subconsciously my desire was to see Johnny Depp in the role opposite Ledger, and it turns out it was Gilliam's original intent but the producers wanted Damon's starpower (which Depp received shortly after production began).  Even still, the problems with the movie are vast beyond the acting (Ledger, Hedley and Peter Stormare are always reliable), ultimately it's an unsure story, which waffles in tone and sensibility.  It is neither high fantasy nor naturalistic, leaning more towards the former but constantly trying to inject aspects of the latter with it's French occupation subplot.  It never reaches any level of seriousness and yet it's never playful either.  It just doesn't know what it wants to be.  Gilliam's preference for practical effects are endearing to a degree, but he's never truly learned how to mask fake props and sets with lighting and composition so as to not make them look like props and sets, it's like a cheaper-looking Tim Burton production.  It's ultimately far too difficult to invest in the film's reality as it never seems to know what it wants to be.