Monday, February 08, 2010
“I made that armour! It's not magic; it's just shiny.”
So it’s the early 1800s in French occupied Germany (yes, you read that correctly) and two brothers are basically making money off of people’s fear and superstitions as “monster busting” con men that set up the monsters they defeat. Then wouldn’t you know it, they get arrested by French authorities and are drafted into a job where they have to find who’s been stealing away children from a small village. Only this time, the monsters are real. Yes, just like in one of those Scooby Doo movies. Around here, the plot sort of loses cohesion and vigor and then the brothers divide over a woman and we get some majorly cliché story elements along with some flashes of actual Gilliam goodness.
Wilhelm Grimm: Matt Damon seems to be our designated hero, the more forceful leader of the partnership. And by forceful, I mean he’s a big jerk to his brother for most of the film, verbally tearing him down, not believing his tales of supernatural experiences until the plot basically requires him to and so on. He’s not likable. Jakob refers to him as Will, but I do not, because he’s supposed to be German.
Jakob Grimm: The late Heath Ledger is so much more human and personable than the other Grimm. Jakob’s a believer in the otherworldly, and since this is a Gilliam film after all, he’s the one who’s right about there being more to the world than what the senses and reason can detect. And then he falls in love in a charmingly awkward way with one of the villagers they’re trying to help and Wilhelm gets in the way big time. Wilhelm calls him Jake, but I refuse to, because he’s supposed to be German. It BOTHERS me greatly that all of the GERMAN characters have ENGLISH accents.
Mercurio Cavaldi: Peter Stormare (a Swedish actor who’s been in a ton of stuff, including a nihilist in The Big Lebowski) hams it up big time as an Italian torture expert in the employ of the French that gets sent along as a kind of chaperone for the Grimms to make sure they don’t try to escape. He’s mostly around to provide sociopathic comic relief, and does it very, very well.
Delatombe: Jonathan Pryce is gloriously hammy as the French Villain who runs the region the movie takes place in. He’s cultured, polite, ruthless and bloodthirsty, all great traits in a villain. Unfortunately, the movie has two major villains, and as a result, both get divided and neither gets enough screen time. Still, the scenes with Pryce are easily the best in the movie, and he is truly badass here. I'd rather follow his adventures.
Angelika: Lena Headey plays an extraordinarily anachronistic liberated woman in 19th Century Germany. The character of Angelika is also an extraordinarily boring one that’s been done to death many times over in cliché fantasy and/or period films: the plucky, boyish tomboy on the outskirts of the village that comes from common stock yet happens to be exceedingly intelligent and important. Its not that I hate that particular archetype, its just that I’ve seen it so many times without any notable variation that it shuts my brain down. Sadly, the script does not allow for her to become more than that cliché.
The Mirror Queen: Monica Bellucci is the other big Villain, a centuries-old vain and evil queen who’s been trapped in a tower for a long, long time, but now apparently making a move on regaining her power. The stuff with her is great as well, and she is probably the most “Gilliam” of all the main characters in the film. Very good, just doesn’t get enough screen time.
Terry Gilliam’s signature style is clearly present in a lot of scenes and the cinematography and costumes are fantastic, but then there’s this feeling of executive meddling that rattles against the good things. It’s a bit hard to describe it, but if you’re familiar with Gilliam’s other work, you can sort of tell the scenes where he went hog wild from the others. The very Gilliam scenes are great, but there are a lot of scenes with the brothers just kind of arguing in the village (and they do it a LOT in this movie) that lack the exuberance of the better scenes. There is also quite a lot of CGI in the film, and most of it is the bland and soulless kind, unfortunately.
Ehren Kruger’s script does some good things and some bad things. First the good. It tries to present the fairy tales in a darker light, which makes sense for their original context. Fairy tales are cautionary tales and meant to warn and disturb. Some of the supernatural elements are incredibly creepy, like a horse that eats someone and runs off into the night. Stuff like that is awesome. The villains are very entertaining with some great lines.
Now the bad. The movie becomes a standard issue buddy movie by the end with only a few surprises. A great deal of things happen by the end not because of character development, but because things like that always seem to happen in buddy movies, as though someone was checking them off a list. Not going to spoil them, but if you saw the movie, you’d probably spot them easy.
And then there’s one thing at the end which really skeeved me, and I feel like spoiling it because it pissed me off. So by the climactic battle, Jakob, who’s been in love with Angelika for a while, despite Wilhelm basically telling him not to be, saves her life because of some “true love” clause. All well and good, yes? She wakes up and for some reason is taken with Wilhelm, which comes completely out of nowhere. The two didn’t have any real tender moments before this, nor was there chemistry or any of the telltale signs of any kind of romance between them, not even the constant bickering that’s a telltale movie sign of attraction. Nothing. Just comes out of nowhere because I guess you can’t end the movie with one of the brothers ending up saving the day AND getting the girl. Even though Wilhelm was more of a hindrance than a help. And it kind of craps on that whole “true love” clause too. I mean, that whole ending made no sense. Bah!
Also, don’t expect to see any of that dynamic linguistic research action that they actually conducted. Nope. Sadly, Jakob Grimm’s discovery of a system-wide consonant shift in Germanic languages away from Indo-European somewhere in the forgotten past known as Grimm’s Law has yet to be immortalized in celluloid.
Dario Marianelli’s score does the job quite nicely.
The Brothers Grimm is an exercise in frustration, because its full of evidence that points to a very good movie that was buried inside what actually was released. Beneath the unconvincing CGI, the boring cardboard heroes and the inability to go beyond some of the predictable storytelling elements there are some flashes of very groovy things. Sadly, it’s painful to watch the good bits because you know they don’t last long enough to carry the movie. So, not recommended.