The Brothers Grimm (2005)

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[I originally typed this review during 2013’s Halloween Endurance Test. It has been sitting unpublished/-polished ever since. Enjoy.]

One of the first things you learn in college, besides where to score free condoms (the health clinic), and how to score free drugs (the white dude with dreadlocks down at the end of the hall), is that folktales are living, breathing stories. With each tale coming complete with variants as plentiful as there are overweight anthropology professors to collect them. You’ll also learn that the fabled Brothers Grimm didn’t so much create these tales as codify them; giving restrictive shapes to tales that often encompassed both wanton violence and coprophilia. The Brothers Grimm becoming almost as famous for who they were and what they did than the tales they worked so hard collecting.

The Brothers Grimm - Damon

As such, it should shock no one that Hollywood would eventually become bored with toying with these tales, and instead focus on their collectors. What was surprising, however, is how amusing and satisfying the Brothers Grimm ended up. The film perfectly mimicking the amorphous qualities the folktales had before the Brothers Grimm recorded them.

The film starts with younger brother Jake (Heath Ledger) being sent to buy his sick sister medicine. Jake is, and remains throughout, a believer, however, so he trades the family cow for some beans that he was assured were magic. Older brother Will (Matt Damon) throttles him for believing in fairy tales.

The Brothers Grimm - Beheaded

In the movie’s reality, the brothers don’t record the tales, but avenge them. Playacting hauntings and pretend fighting witches to fool villages out of their money. Until they’re one day caught by Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), and forced to make good on their fraudulent claims. So really it’s Ghostbusters with half the cast, more modern special effects, and baby tears replacing proton packs.

Reality’s edges become even more blurred when you consider that many of the castles in the Brothers Grimm are the real deal. Thus making it nearly impossible to distinguish between German architecture and Hollywood artifice. To make no mention of how traditional fairy tales get chopped up and spliced back together.

The Brothers Grimm - the Tower

The Brothers Grimm main quest stretching from Hansel and Gretal, waylaid by Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf, having through an enchanted forest, ending up at Repunsal’s tower. The Brothers charged with saving the missing daughters of Marbaden in exchange for their own heads.

All in all, not a bad premise. Except that, in the movie world, all the fantastic elements are fake; as we learn via Jake’s magic beans. The elements remain fake until midway through, at which point we learn all the things the Brothers were pretending to fight actually do exist. While it is rather amusing to see Jake and Will decked out in their special mirror armor, when the fantasies become real is also when the film becomes tiresome.

The Brothers Grimm - Wraith

Strange as it sounds, but when a film about fairy tales will lose its momentum once the fairy tales become fact. Not even the addition of a genuinely likable character, Angelika (Lena Headey), who plays the Brothers’ belligerent guide, can undo the damage.

Here’s how it works. Once you establish the laws within a fictional world, it’s vitally important that you don’t then violate said laws midway through. I mentioned Ghostbusters earlier, and it’s a great example, because in that film the ghosts always existed. People didn’t believe them, but we, as the audience, knew the truth.

The Brothers Grimm - the Brothers Tortured

In the Brothers Grimm the opposite occurs. We’re told the stories are all a big con job, then, moments later, surprise, everything actually was true! It’s just that no one knew except for Angelika and the townspeople of Marbaden.

Which is a shame, as the con artist Brothers Grimm are more likable than the Brothers Grimm undergoing redemption. Also, watching a cursed horse swallow a young boy whole is just silly; no matter how great you think your CGI is. Shame on you Terry Gilliam.

The Brothers Grimm - Eaten By a Horse; Part 1

The Brothers Grimm - Eaten By a Horse; Part 2

The Brothers Grimm - Eaten By a Horse; Part 3

The Brothers Grimm - Eaten By a Horse; Part 4

The Brothers Grimm - Eaten By a Horse; Part 6

It’s amazing that with a running time of just under two hours, the Brothers Grimm still couldn’t find a way to provide the entire plot. First we find out that the Marbaden curse is true, then we randomly learn that Jake has a crush on Angelika. No build-up, no implications, just instant fact; similar to how the you learn about the adultery in the Descent.

The script just blindsides you as you watch. Hell, we also learn that Jake had already heard about the Marbaden Rapunzel witch (Monica Bellucci). he just didn’t feel like talking about it; as he does with every other fairy tale. Almost as if director Terry Gilliam couldn’t decide whether he wanted a realistic or a fantastic film, so scripted both to be true in order to hedge his bets.

The Brothers Grimm - Mudmen

Some decent editing would help here too. First the Brothers find the forest is enchanted. Cut to a scene where they’re tortured and are re-assigned to their mission of saving the village. So they return to the forest, and this time meet the Rapunzel witch. Cut back to the village where they’re given the assignment of saving the village a third time.

If you thought reading that paragraph was laborious, imagine watching it play out on-screen.

The Brothers Grimm - Sleeping Queen

Honestly, all pretend reviewing aside, this movie sucks. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, no movie needs to be two hours long. Maybe documentaries that tell bona fide stories, but Hollywood crap? It’s one of those vicious cycles: movie attendance is down, so Hollywood mandates that all films must to two hours to “add value.” Which bore the masses, making them more likely to download said crap that way they can drink/smoke pot/shoot heroine while it plays.

I stopped watching an hour and twenty minutes in. I’ll assume it ends at some point, or the cameramen just got bored and stopped feeding film into the cameras.

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