Film - The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm

Steve Taylor-Bryant looks beyond the fairy tales as he takes on The Brothers Grimm, a film fraught with behind the scenes issues that nearly became another Don Quixote...

"You go and sell your oil of snake"

A huge budget and a Gilliam attempt at Hollywood is how many see The Brothers Grimm but this production was as fraught as any Gilliam film with problems and infighting. MGM pulled the funding after production had begun, paving way for another pair of famous brothers to step up to the plate in Bob and Harvey Weinstein. This just created more problems for Gilliam, with constant battles leading him to shut down production for so long that Matt Damon managed to film and release two other projects before Grimm saw light of day and Gilliam went and made Tideland, all due to an argument with the Weinsteins over the final cut. The Weinstein's were obsessed with getting an Oscar and didn't like the film, constantly getting Oscar winning directors and writers to view the Gilliam cut and constantly being told that's how it should look. The original version of Matt Damon's character, Wilhelm Grimm, was due to wear a prosthetic but that was vetoed, Robin Williams left the production before it began, Johnny Depp, Uma Thurman, Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins were all Gilliam's first choices but scheduling meant it wasn't to be. Both Gilliam and Damon wanted Samantha Morton on board but this vetoed by the Weinsteins, who also fired the cinematographer after filming had already begun and due to the ridiculously tight schedule and budget constraints no refilming was possible, and one of Gilliam's epic forest scenes was removed for no other reason than it appeared too early in the film and it was felt nothing else could top it (although one of the DVD versions has it included). Gilliam had a fight with the Writers Guild of America, due to them not allowing him a screenplay credit despite the fact he completely changed the original version by Ehran Kruger (although he eventually slipped into the closing credits himself and his writing partner Tony Grisoni as Dressmakers.) Oh and it changed composers as well, whilst Weinstein's yes men producers hung around on set like a bad smell. However, the film at least saw the light of the day but, in my opinion, is one of Gilliam's weakest and a fine example of studio meddling ruining the original vision.

Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) and Jakob Grimm (Heath Ledger) arrive in French-occupied Germany during the early 1800s to rid a town of a witch's ghost but, after killing the "ghost", it is revealed that they set up a fake witch to trick the townsfolk. Afterwards, as they are celebrating, Italian torturer Mercurio Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) takes them to the French General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) who forces them to solve a mystery: The girls of a small village are disappearing and the villagers are convinced that supernatural beings are responsible. The Grimms are charged with finding who is responsible and they soon discover that it is the work of a real supernatural force: a beautiful, yet evil, 500-year-old Queen (Monica Bellucci) stealing young girls to restore her own beauty. A spell granted her immortal life, but not the youth and beauty to go along with it, which only now exists as an illusion in the mirror, so she needs to drink the blood of twelve young girls to regain her beauty; ten have already been reported missing. The Grimms, with the help of Cavaldi and Angelika (Lena Headey), a knowing huntress from the village, intend to destroy the Mirror Queen but, after another girl goes missing, Cavaldi is ordered to kill both the Grimms. Convincing Delatombe that the magic in the forest is actually caused by German rebels, he sends them back to try again. 

The Brothers Grimm

Whilst I do have issues with The Brothers Grimm and see it as Gilliam's worst film, that doesn't mean it's a bad film in the grand scheme of things, far from it. As a Hollywood take on a fantasy fairytale project it is highly watchable but I can't help to think how epic it would have been if Gilliam's original vision is what we actually received. The parts of the film done by cinematographer Nicola Pecorini are as close to a Gilliam vision as the film gets as, after Bob Weinstein fired him, he was replaced with their man Newton Thomas Sigel. Sigel changed the technique that the project was being filmed in, leaving many of the scenes looking more generic studio effect than you would normally get in a Gilliam film and a lot lighter in tone than maybe suited the darkness of the content.

Damon was set to wear a prosthetic nose but again this vetoed by the Weinstein's and unfortunately means Damon doesn't really suit the film. With Heath Ledger, who was paid a pittance compared to his co-star, you had the shorter hair, scruffy beard and glasses but with Damon being the $10million star of a Weinstein's film and therefore having to look that part, he came across as too good looking and clean cut to be Will Grimm, which is a shame, as the amount of work he put into the physicality of the part along with his extensive vocal training doesn't really do him justice and I just don't buy him as a character. Ledger impressed and looked every bit a Gilliam actor and Peter Stormare as Cavaldi was a shining example of what you can get out of an actor when he's left alone to his business. The Samantha Morton debacle hangs over the whole film unfortunately for fans of Lena Headey, who knew she wasn't wanted and seemed to put little heart into her performance as did Jonathan Pryce, who seemed to have his nose put out of joint being constantly upstaged by the wonderful Stormare.

As a Gilliam film, if he'd been allowed the time and crew to do his version, we would all be talking about the director's obvious film-making genius but instead we are just given a lesson in how bad a film can become when studio heads think they know more than the artist.

"truth is much more terrible than fiction"

Image/Synopsis - IMDb.
Research via Dreams and Nightmares: Terry Gilliam, The Brothers Grimm and Other Cautionary Tales of Hollywood by Bob McCabe.