Brothers, Jake and Will Grimm are con-men grifting money from German villages in order to rid them of ‘supernatural entities,’ but when a French General forces them to uncover who is behind the disappearance of almost a dozen children, they discover that the supernatural isn’t just a figment of their imagination.
Having seen this movie in the theater when it first came out but before I knew who Terry Gilliam (“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”) was, I had a pretty bad aftertaste in my mouth going back to this film as an adult. I suspected that I would like it more than I had but critic’s general opinion on the film had me pretty convinced that I wouldn’t love “The Brothers Grimm.”
It is hard to underestimate how disappointed I was in this film. It is so close to being what I want it to be and being a truly brilliant Gilliam film but it strays just often enough from the mark that I find myself wondering if I will end up adding this title to my Gilliam collection or not.
A film revolving around fairy tales, whether or not they exist, actors and whether they are merely pretenders or actual legends, and an enchanted forest which may or may not be the setting for truly miraculous events; I can certainly see why Gilliam was interested in this film. It seems right up the alley of the man who made “Jabberwocky,” “Time Bandits,” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.”
In its best moments, the film really explores these ideas in interesting ways. It At its worst, however, it simply states things obviously and states them over and over.
The opening scene of the film presents an alternate version of the famous Jack and the beanstalk story. In this film, Jake is sent to sell the cow for money to feed a dying mother but when he returns with beans, which are not magic but simply a con, his brother Will shouts “Magic beans?” at him as an everlasting shame upon his head.
This would be fine if it came up later as particularly meaningful but throughout the film, Will yells “Magic beans” at Jake approximately 50 times. It is clearly something he has said many times in his life and he continues to cudgel his brother with it every time his brother even hints that something is magical.
In fact, this brings to light one of the central things I did not care for it the film. Will’s character is so slow to believe in magic that even if the forest itself got up and started walking around, he would still find obtuse and nonsensical justifications for why everything was perfectly natural about it.
Again, this is the sort of thing that if the film were better written could have come across especially powerful but because it is simply played for humor and frequently overplayed, it ends up seeming stubbornly stupid as opposed to genuinely motivated by a brother who is tired of his siblings constant flights of fancy. If Will never happened to be around for the supernatural stuff or was only confronted with it towards the end of the movie much of the film would work better but there is too much, as usual, that Gilliam is trying to cram into his film.
This film reminds me that as much as I love Gilliam his weaknesses as a director are very apparent at times and there is a reason he has trouble getting his movies made. His best films are masterpieces but his middleing films are uneven at best. They test your patience and sense of humor at times and his lack of budgets usually leave you at the mercy of third or fourth rate CGI.
While this film certainly has that Gilliam charm to it, it just doesn’t have the full fledged magical enchantment he is capable of and my leave Gilliam fans wanting. If however you don’t know much about Gilliam and are just interested in branching out from the mainstream Disney-sequel-a-thon currently afflicting popular culture, then this movie might be just far enough down the rabbit hole to get you interested without scaring you right back out.
“The Brothers Grimm” is a surprisingly bizarre Gilliam appetizer if you are still unsure about whether or not you should venture into his better but more challenging filmography.
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