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Review: The Brothers Grimm, dir. Terry Gilliam
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
I finally got around to seeing this one. Sadly, I have to concur with the negative buzz I had heard. This is far from Gilliam's finest hour.

The confusingly-told story takes plot elements of many different fairy tales and modern fantasy tropes and mixes them up into a fairly incoherent mess. The Brothers of the title are essentially 18th-century Ghostbusters, only they actually *do* fake all the paranormal incidents that they then 'defeat'. Naturally, they end up facing a *real* enchanted forest, complete with witch-queen, big bad wolf, and miscellaneous malevolent wildlife. There's a plot involving stolen children, an eclipse, and an immortality spell, but the exposition of it is slapdash, almost as if Gilliam resents any attempt to try and make sense of it.

As is typical in any movie about brothers, they represent incomplete halves of a whole character: one creative but gullible, the other practical but cynical. (Gilliam's standard themes of 'fantasy vs reality' are here in full force.) The other 'characters' are even more caricatured. The Eeevile Frenchman is 'motivated' by a desire for Order. The Eeevile Italian is motivated by pure sadism -- until he inexplicably becomes a good guy at the 11th hour. The Strong Woman is the typical modern action heroine, and despite being a one-with-nature huntress figure, consistently has the cleanest face of anyone in the film.

The emotional tone of the film is extremely confusing. It moves from slapstick to grand guignol to horror, then back *past* slapstick into panto territory. Much of it is grotesque and/or spooky, but then it turns around and acts so silly that the horror is undercut. Yet it's still too gross and scary to laugh at. Many of the sets and props are meticulously researched for historical accuracy, but the plot doesn't care about that aspect at all. (It sort of reminds me of my negative reactions to the screenplays of George Macdonald Fraser.) This inconsistency in tone can only be partly blamed on the screenplay; Gilliam's direction is just as incoherent.

The strange thing is that, at least in broad strokes, all of these complaints could be made against Gilliam's classic fantasy trilogy of the 80s. But *those* movies somehow worked as cohesive wholes despite their disparate elements, and this one just doesn't.

Also, this movie has Too Many Bugs. Don't people remember the lessons of Temple of Doom? Has there *ever* been a successful (non-horror) movie that had that many bugs in it?

To close on an up note, the movie is beautiful to look at. And it does have occasional flashes of Gilliam brilliance shining through, mostly involving poetic use of mirrors. But I sadly can't recommend it to anyone but a Gilliam completist.
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I haven't seen the movie, but from your review and others I've read, it sounds like Gilliam may be suffering from J.K Rowling Syndrome*: needing someone to look over your shoulder and force you to focus and make cuts, but being too aware that you are now a Big Name to accept any authority higher than your own. Tragic, really; there's no known cure.

*NB: I know J.K. Rowling is almost certainly not the first person to suffer from J.K. Rowling Syndrome. No letters, please.

It's possible, but I tend to doubt it. He's spent a lot of years as a Hollywood pariah because he had a similar (but, IMHO, undeserved) reputation. He's spent years trying (and failing) to raise funding for Good Omens. He had a notably disastrous experience a few years back with his Don Quixote attempt (I have a documntary about that that's pretty interesting; it's in the downstairs cabine: Lost in La Mancha). I think he's probably pretty much aware of his limitations.

But then, maybe I'm just too big a fan of his :-/

[I've always thought of this as Robert A. Heinlein syndrome, myself...]

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