Back in the Terry Gilliam universe, we have another diabolical stew that
stretches the visual and satiric capacity of the medium to a fine and
fabulous point. This is his fairy tale about the creators of the fairy
tale--famous 19th century German storytellers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Gilliam pretends to disclose how they contended against powerful sorcery to
pull off their enduring accomplishment.
When younger brother Jake Grimm, as a child, brings home magic marbles
instead of vittles, having bought into some con artist's deception about
their special power, the lads' destinies are born. At first, older brother
Will comes down hard on poor Jake. By the time they're grown, however, Will
and Jake (Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) are making their living through
delusion and deception, conning remote villagers by convincing them of their
special abilities to suppress the evil spirits plagueing their town.
After a fine demonstration of (digitally contrived) magical illusion and an
appropriate payoff in gold, the brothers continue their journeys, where a
higher set of challenges await them. But, the guy in charge of this
French-German territory Villain Delatombe (Jonathan Price), and his
demi-villainous right-hand henchman Cavaldi (Jonathan Price and Peter
Stormare) have other plans for our impertinent hucksters. Delatombe is a man
with the power of an army who relishes death (of others), and Cavaldi's a guy
who is as fawning to his leader as he is psychopathically cruel to his
prisoners. Once this pair catches wind of what our deceptive siblings are
doing out in the boonies, they're soon threatening the boys with a succinct
death if they carry on their fraudulent ways. The bothers weedle their way
out of their clutches, accepting Cavaldi's pernicious oversight.
Which brings them to a village that has a real problem and where they meet
the luscious babe and forest guide Angelika (captivating Lena Headey). Ten
young girls have disappeared on forages into the bordering forest of
Marbaden, and two of the missing are Angelika's sisters, so the reluctant
tomboy agrees to help our fearless ones. She leads them into a landscape of
trees that move and shift around, roots that capture and bind, and a horse
that swallows a child. At its center is a tower that houses an evil hag who
is the engine of the sorcery. The task for the Grimms is now actual--the
illusions no longer theirs to control. and they are no better equipped to
deal with the real thing than any other mere mortal.
Mr. Gilliam amuses us with considerable magical invention and a couple of
great beauties, namely Lena Headey, the able forest damsel, and Monica
Bellucci as the hag revived into deadly Queen Mirror, a femme fatale deluxe.
Her 500-year long sleep is over as soon as she rounds up the spell's final
ingredients during the pending eclipse.
The creative audacity of the tale recalls the visual magic of "Brazil" and,
while the comedy gets rather twisted and pushy at time, it avoids the harsh
destiny of Gilliam's "Baron Munchhausen," and the prematurely abandoned "The
Man Who Killed Don Quixote." At his worst, however, Mr. G. is a film artist
with a grand and copious vision that he incorporates into every frame of
every film like a potion.
What is not so alchemically compatible is the core cast. The bond between the
two brothers seems curiously uninvolving at first, as though the actors are
working out their roles. Jonathan Price's swell dandy goes beyond
exaggeration. His intended execution of the boys is a high budget "Saturday
Night Live" routine. It's not until the Grimms make contact with luscious
Angelika that the film begins to feel inventive and fascinating instead of
cartoonish and awkward.
Maybe it has somthing to do with compromises in the casting. What might it
have been if Nicole Kidman had been available when the role of Angelika was
offered? Or, Samantha Morton, who was Gilliam's and Damon's desire? Or if it
were a Johnny Depp film as originally conceived. And, if there hadn't been
the monumental clashes between director and producer. If, if, if.
Working from a script by Ehren Kruger and masterfully conceived CG effects,
he and his two cinematographers, Nicola Pecorini and his replacement Newton
Thomas Sigel ("X2") turned a portion of the Czech Republic (near Prague) into
visual magic and surreality. Gilliam is one of a few filmmakers whose visual
perfection earns them an implication of "genius" status. Gilliam's
consistent demand for perfect composition and lighting in every frame is a
reliable essence of his trademark enchantments, working wonders upon such a
dark fantasy as this.
~~ Jules Brenner