Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)
The Brothers Grimm
“It almost has a USA series sort of concept. They are the brothers Grimm, but they are con artists. I love the little references to the Grimm tales, and it is just a generally fun movie. Also, it is beautiful, being a Terry Gilliam movie. Critics really didn’t care for it, but I think it is pretty fun, and I enjoyed it when I watched it again recently.”
“The Brothers Grimm” seems like a winning combination from the start: the Grimm tales are some of the most beloved, dark fairy tales of all time, and here they are put into the hands of one of the most visionary and imaginative directors out there in Terry Gilliam, who specifically specializes in the bleak and strange (“12 Monkeys,” “Brazil”).
The writer of “Brothers Grimm” is credited as Ehren Kruger, who is probably best known for his involvement in writing a number of the “Transformers” films. He has a number of other credits to his name that predate “Grimm,” such as the Ben Affleck flick “Reindeer Games” and the much-maligned third “Scream” movie. His only particularly well-liked work seems to be “The Ring,” for which he wrote the adapted English screenplay. Interestingly, the writing credit on “Grimm” was the subject of much controversy: Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”) apparently extensively re-wrote Kruger’s script, but were denied writing credits by the Writers Guild of America.
The cast of “Grimm” features the late Heath Ledger and Matt Damon as the eponymous Brothers. Outside of them, the cast features Gilliam favorite Jonathan Pryce (“Brazil”), the now-acclaimed Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”), Peter Stormare (“Fargo”), Monica Bellucci (“Irreversible”), Mackenzie Crook (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), and character actor Roger Ashton-Griffiths. Interestingly enough, Headey, Pryce, Crook, and Ashton-Griffiths have all appeared in recent seasons of “Game of Thrones” in an assortment of roles.
Interestingly, it is reported that Gilliam wanted Johnny Depp for Damon’s role, but Bob Weinstein dissented, claiming that Depp was not commercial enough. Of course, Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” released during the production (2003), changing his status overnight. Stormare’s role was apparently given to Robin Williams initially, but he dropped out before filming.
Among the producing credits on “The Brothers Grimm” are the notorious Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob. This movie released just as the brothers were fleeing Disney (and their original company of Mirimax) in 2005, for the greener pastures of their new incarnation, The Weinstein Company. Technically, “Grimm” released under Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films label (in cooperation with MGM and Summit due to the budget), though it could be considered one of the first productions of The Weinstein Company.
Unsurprisingly, the Weinsteins clashed significantly with Gilliam over the course of the film’s production. In a 2009 interview, Gilliam had some choice words about the brothers and the ultimate product that is “The Brothers Grimm”:
“…they’re interesting producers, but they are people who are good at those jobs and not at directing movies. And yet they want to be filmmakers. They interfered more than I’ve ever been interfered with before.”
“it’s not the film they wanted and it’s not quite the film I wanted. It’s the film that is a result of two people, or two groups of people, who aren’t working well together.”
As Hannah mentioned, “The Brothers Grimm” was not well-received on release. It currently holds a critic score of 38% and an audience score of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, a rare case of agreement between the two barometers. However, the IMDb user score is notably higher at a 5.9, which may indicate that the movie has been looked back on more fondly in recent years (though not dramatically). It did manage to make some money on a high budget of an estimated $88 million, but not much. It is really something when a movie can break $100 million total in ticket sales and not make an impressive gross.
The best aspect of “The Brothers Grimm” is almost unarguably the effects. They are a little dated a decade down the line (the werewolf transformations, particularly), but not excessively so. Visually, the film is really solid all around, with an interesting mix of CG and practical effects. There is also some masterful use of lighting (particularly in a couple of the Mirror Queen sequences), which is to be expected from Terry Gilliam.
You can tell that there are the makings of a good Gilliam movie here, but that it just couldn’t come to fruition. I’m sure Gilliam would blame the Weinsteins’ constrictions for that, but I think that Gilliam’s vision was just too big for the realistic budget: the film almost didn’t get released at all due to the skyrocketing budget of the flick. Of course, the writing wasn’t exactly stellar either, which didn’t give the movie much of a foundation to work with.
The script is pretty shoddy on the dialogue front, to the point that the actors can’t really salvage it. They are still pretty charming and do what they can with the material, but it just isn’t very good. The constant nods to the Grimm Fairy Tales are to be expected, but they come a little too often and a little too blatantly for my taste. It isn’t as bad as “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” or “Van Helsing” by a longshot though, which some have (I think unfairly) drawn parallels to. Probably worst of all though is the fact that the plot just isn’t very interesting or engaging. I loved the initial concept, but the plot’s inane complexities really took me out of it by the third act. I just couldn’t stay invested in the labyrinthine details as the story progressed.
There is another pretty big problem with this film, and I think it is one that significantly impacted the behind the scenes tensions: this movie is just too long for what it is. I know that one of the fighting points between the Weinsteins and Gilliam was over the director’s right to final cut (final say on the editing of the movie), and I’m willing to bet the Weinsteins wanted him to tighten it up against his wishes. And you know what? They were right in this case. One of Gilliam’s greatest weaknesses is pacing, and a number of his more recent movies have been criticized for this problem. I don’t think it is as bad here as it has been in some other films of his, but the 2 hours of run-time here feels as long as a Peter Jackson Tolkien adaptation, and it isn’t nearly entertaining enough to justify it.
Unless you are a die hard fan of the Grimm Fairy Tales, or are a Terry Gilliam completest, I think “The Brothers Grimm” is pretty skippable. It has some good moments, and I don’t think it is as bad as the critics treated it on release, but I found it to be a mediocre film overall. Gilliam is capable of a whole lot better, and it is hard to divorce the ultimate product of this movie from the incredible potential it had.