The Brothers Grimm (12A)

Written by Ehren Kruger, Directed by Terry Gilliam
On general release from 4th November 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

No-one could accuse Terry Gilliam of lacking directorial ambition post-Python. His 1985 opus Brazil set new standards in surreal dreamlike craziness; films like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Twelve Monkeys also delved into the fantastic, whilst his take on Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas just felt like one long psychotic trip. But that was seven years ago. More recently, Gilliam spectacularly failed to get his Don Quixote film as far as the cinemas, and with The Brothers Grimm he seems to have overreached once again.

In real life, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were publishers of nineteenth century German folklore. The origins of Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, and all the other stories your parents probably scared you with actually go back much further than them. But of course - in Gilliamworld - reality is only there to be escaped from, so he has 'Jake' (Heath Ledger) and 'Will' (Matt Damon) as con artists roaming through the forests of French-occupied Germany. Their scam is pretending to protect townsfolk from evil spirits, but when they come across a genuine magical curse, they discover that wolves can shapeshift, there really is a witch in the tower, and trees really do move about in the dark.

Just like the vampireish Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci), this movie is almost ridiculously beautiful to look at, but if you smash the glass you are left with a great big malodorous carcass of a storyline that is falling apart before your very eyes. There are lots of great ideas, but they just don't hang together properly. Jonathan Pryce as a Napoleonesque general and Peter Stormare as his sadistic henchman turn in some decent performances, but there are also stinkers from Matt Damon and one Lena Headey - who somehow saw fit to give her German peasant girl a broad Yorkshire accent.

For their part, the kids at my screening seemed divided between those who screamed blood-curdling screams when they saw the Abu Ghraibish torture scenes and those who had big grins on their faces. But for me, The Brothers Grimm is neither funny enough to be a comedy or tense enough to be a thriller, and don't even get me started on the half-hearted 'love story'. There is an excellent fairytale ending, but it takes an incredibly long time to reach the happily ever after.

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