Will (Matt Damon) and his brother Jacob (Heath Ledger) are the famous Brothers Grimm, who make a living ridding the countryside of monsters and demons. It is the early 19th century in French occupied Germany, and General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) orders their arrest as con artists. Meanwhile, eleven young girls have disappeared and the brothers ride into the woods to try to find them. The local woodcutter's daughter Angelika (Lenah Headley) shows them the way, but they become trapped in a magical forest. Fairy tale characters pop up everywhere, including the beauty-obsessed Queen (Monica Bellucci), who has been asleep for 500 years.
The Brothers Grimm is Terry Gilliam's first film in seven years, since the misfire that was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Not that he hasn't been trying (see 'disaster doc' Lost In La Mancha that chronicles his ill-fated attempt at turning The Man Who Killed Don Quixote into a feature). The Brothers Grimm is ironically Gilliam's biggest budgeted film ever, an $80 million fairytale fantasy bankrolled by the Brothers Weinstein, Bob and Harvey.
Scripted by Ehren Kruger (The Ring), with substantial input from the director, The Brothers Grimm is a tall tale about the unlikely lives of the real-life fairytale writers the Grimm Brothers, Wilhelm and Jacob, played by Matt Damon (The Bourne Identity) and Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain). Fancying them as sham 'ghostbusters', Team Grimm roam 18th century Germany staging supernatural horrors in small towns, then exorcising them for an easy buck. But the jig is up when ruthless French 'generale' Delatombe, (long-time Gilliam collaborator Jonathan Pryce), packs them off to battle a real threat – an enchanted forest spiriting away children from a tiny town. If this sounds like the perfect vehicle for Gilliam, operating at his surreal, nightmarish best, you'd be half right.
The Brothers Grimm contains his trademark dark humour, gruesome n' grimy design and some inspired sequences, especially when Monica Bellucci (Irreversible, the Matrix sequels) enters the fray as the evil 'Mirror Queen'. Damon and Ledger work well together in entertaining sibling synch but Pryce and Swedish actor Peter Stormare who plays Cavaldi, Delatombe's Italian 'fix it' man – do not. Their hammy performances over-balance the film, sorely in need of restraint and quieter drama to balance the visual and narrative excess. It has been well reported that Gilliam and his producers came to blows over compromises the director had to make and they clearly impact on the finished product.
While it is nowhere near as disastrous as Fear and Loathing, and it is lots of fun, it is also an annoyingly inconsistent and patchy movie, ultimately another spectacular and interesting movie failure racked up by this tormented and talented director.