The Brothers Grimm
Terry Gilliam's troubled Prague-filmed fairy tale is better than you might expect
Starring: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare
Labeled "damaged goods" long before it reached Czech cinemas, Terry Gilliam's latest opus - filmed in Prague - benefits from lowered expectations.
The negative publicity surrounding the film - disputes with MGM and Dimension, lengthy delays to the release, and a poisonous response from American reviewers - all leave you expecting a train wreck.
But while The Brothers Grimm falls far short of Gilliam's best work, it's still a watchable and occasionally spectacular couple of hours.
Set in French-occupied Germany, in the late 1700s, this largely fictional tale has cynical Wilhelm (Damon) and the more romantic Jakob (Ledger) as bogus witch-hunters, using theatrical effects - and much Python Lite humor - to con money from gullible peasants.
The scheme runs into trouble when the French governor, Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), accuses the brothers of being behind a "curse" that's terrifying the villagers of Marbaden.
Bargaining for their lives, Will and Jake agree to visit the village, chaperoned by Delatombe's henchman, Cavaldi (Stormare), and put things right.
Once there, of course, they discover that the supernatural shenanigans are genuine, and hook up with local girl Angelika (Lena Headey) to break curse of the evil Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci).
It's this plotline that's The Brothers Grimm's biggest weakness. As well as being predictable, there's no clear sense either of what's at stake or of what we're supposed to be afraid of.
The supernatural Mirror Queen is clearly the main villain of the piece but, this being a Gilliam film, we're also supposed to oppose the French regime's Enlightement-era rationalism.
For a fairytale, there are far too many bad guys.
The special effects are a letdown too, often making it difficult to suspend disbelief. Marbaden's enchanted forest, which plays a central role in the film, is all too obviously a studio set and the CGI, in a film that cost $80 million, is often surprisingly poor.
When the film hits its stride though - the scenes in and around the Mirror Queen's tower, for instance - Gilliam reminds us what he's capable of - an unmatched visual flair and imagination.
Judged against the likes of Brazil, Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Brothers Grimm is undoubtedly a disappointment. Judged against standard Hollywood fare, however, it's magical enough.
PTV Rating: 3 out of 5
Czech Premiere: Thursday, November 10th, 2005
Czech Title: Kletba bratří Grimmů ("The Curse of the Brothers Grimm")
Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Video on YouTube
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