When I was a
child, I played with childish things. Now that I am a man
...I still play with childish things. But I'm supposedly
a lot smarter now. It's sort of the Fanboy Planet credo,
and one that Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) should share.
Like many a
Terry Gilliam protagonist, Jacob hopes for magic, though
as a child that hope leads to tragedy. Years later near
the end of the 18th Century, he and his brother Wilhelm
(Matt Damon) have turned their knowledge of magic and folklore
into just another way to fleece the yokels. But in one bad
night in the village of Marienbad, they will discover that
Jacob's hopes are a nightmarish reality.
have been a cakewalk for Gilliam, directing from a script
by Ehren Kruger. All the elements of Gilliam's most delirious
work are here: dreamer, folklore and tall tales and a towering
evil that only good hearts can try to overcome. Set loose
in an ethereal village where he can run through any fairy
tale he wants, Gilliam instead chooses to walk.
it's more of a tired amble. Not even the ominous moving
trees of Marienbad Forest can rouse him.
the battle for La Mancha
took it all out of him, and indeed The Brothers Grimm
arrives with stories of even more battles to get made. High-powered
actors danced in and out of roles, which would definitely
have changed the balance of things. Gilliam himself allegedly
halted production for five months in order to recharge his
batteries and direct the smaller film Tideland.
Then the Brothers
Weinstein stepped in to save this production when MGM could
fight no more, and they are not exactly the most hands-off
of producers. When matched with a director like Kevin Smith
who could use a little guidance, it works. But Gilliam needs
It still has
its moments, including two powerful leads in Damon and Ledger.
In nice star turns, they play against their expected roles.
Ledger keeps Jacob's head always brushing against the clouds,
even when he knows he must face reality. As Will, Damon
lets loose a roguishness that his off-screen life might
indicate, but rarely gets used on film.
also inconsistently written characters. Will dominates his
bookish brother, and both make that status relationship
clear. Then for one early scene, Jacob has an uncharacteristic
good time, a dynamic that never appears again but just needed
to be there for the purpose of the plot of the scene. It
doesn't fit, and Ledger never even hints at it again, instead
vesting Jacob with a wounded dignity.
Most of the
actors try to keep their performances realistically grounded.
Even Jonathan Pryce resists hamminess as the Napoleon-esque
General Delatombe. Then Peter Stormare strikes a cartoonish
and really out of place figure as an Italian sadist named
Cavaldi. With that exception, the realism would have worked
if Gilliam had let the fantastic be fantastic.
he would. Production Designer Guy Dyas tries to ape the look
of earlier Gilliam films, but somehow it doesn't have that
spontaneous appearance. It could be the CGI age, which keeps
rudely intruding into Gilliam's visuals. It's hard to get
enthralled by even the Grimms' trickery when you know it's
not even being done live. The whole film gives the vague feeling
that Gilliam is following the blueprint of someone else's
creativity, and Kruger may be a clever writer, but he never
seems actually all that creative.
A few flashes
of the Gilliam touch brighten the film. In context slapstick
moments occur, and even though it's computer generated,
Gilliam's take on the Gingerbread Man is horrifically and
terrifically his own. Actually, the CGI does mesh with Gilliam's
vision in the film's climactic battle with the Evil Queen
So it makes
for a diverting story, and a pleasant enough game of spotting
homages to different fairy tales. But compared to the lunacy
of Time Bandits, Brazil and even 12 Monkeys,
this feels restrained, as if Gilliam gave up being personal
and tried to please the crowd.
Terry, please say it ain't so. We love the dreamer of dreams,
not the maker of popcorn.