Monday, August 29, 2005

At the Movies: The Brothers Grimm

I really wish I could say something other than “the critics were right,” but they were. The Brothers Grimm is an often gorgeous film that is at the same time off-putting, markedly confused and disjointed, and in the end, frustratingly lifeless.

The film posits that the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Will, are brothers who make their living as con men, traveling to haunted, superstitious villages and manufacturing menaces that they then defeat, at a dear price from the locals. Jacob (Matt Damon) is the hard headed one, Will the Scholar who believes in the power of the fantastic. The latter takes notes throughout the movie, which presumably later become the basis for the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

Or do they? It’s hard to pin anything down in this movie, and that’s one of it’s major problems. During the course of the film we see what I guess are meant to be the origins of Hansel and Gretel and the Gingerbread Man and Little Red Riding Hood. Or is it the other way around? Is the supernatural force in the movie recreating the stories of the Grimms? I don’t think so, but at the climax of the picture, Jacob tells Will something like “You know how this story ends,” with the implication that Will must follow through with the storyline to resolve everything happily. So… are the Brothers Grimm tales based on the events here, or are the events here based on the Brothers Grimm tales? And are these Brothers Grimm supposed to be analogues of the real ones, or flat out inventions? These issues are murky at best.

The main problem with the film is that, whether this is fair or not, it comes off like director Terry Gilliam’s attempt to make a successful piece of Tim Burton-like fantasia like Sleepy Hollow. Gilliam’s visual sense is as striking as Burton’s, but in every other way he’s the wrong director for a Burton-esque film. Hollywood, which never gets past the surface of things, would be exactly the wrong industry to recognize this.

Burton’s love and simple affection for his characters is always readily apparent, while Gilliam’s work has always manifested a dark, cold and sarcastic feel. Things seldom turn out well for Gilliam’s characters, and one imagines that represents his worldview pretty accurately. I’m not sure Gilliam even really believe in the idea of ‘heroes,’ and that in fact is a central idea in movies like The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, Time Bandits and Brazil. Burton is, in his best work, a sentimentalist who wears his heart on his sleeve. Gilliam has his heart sitting in a jar on his desk, and regards it with fatalistic mockery.

As you may be able to tell, I’m on the Burton side of things. I’ve never really liked Gilliam’s films. Most are very interesting works, and I won’t deny that there is brilliance in them (although less, I think, than many would argue). However, I’ve never really enjoyed being in their company. Burton, however…there’s not a director working today who is more likely to make films I absolutely adore. The Nightmare Before Christmas is probably my favorite film of the last twenty years, and Sleepy Hallow and Edward Scissorhands are right up there.

There are moments of striking beauty in Brothers Grimm, as well as moments of startling and actually unsettling horror. Too bad there wasn’t any sort of coherent structure to contain them.


At 11:28 PM, Anonymous John Bohlke said...

Well there goes another movie that looked at least mildly interesting. Am I really going to have to wait until 'Serenity' or even later until 'The Corpse Bride' to get to see a good movie in the theaters?

At 6:26 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Probably. But hey, two almost guaranteed great movies in one season? Better than normal, anyway.

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Prankster said...

There's also the Wallace & Gromit movie in a few weeks. Actually it's looking like an unusually strong fall, coming on the heels of an awful summer.


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