Terry Gilliam: Ranking His Films From Worst To Best
12. The Brothers Grimm
The stories of the Brothers Grimm remain as popular today as when they were first published in the 19th century - from Hansel and Gretel to Snow White, they collected much loved, famous German folk tales and injected them with a unique writing style of their own, collecting them in beautifully illustrated volumes beloved by generations of children around the world. As their surname suggested, these tales were often infused with a dark psychological edge, with cruelty and violence sitting alongside suggestions of Freudian sexual wish fulfillment and Jungian archetypes drawn from deep within the shadow self. On paper Terry Gilliam sounds like the perfect choice for bringing to the screen a fictionalized account of the Grimm brothers - Gilliam's sharp understanding of the macabre machinations of the imagination lends itself perfectly to their twisted tales. Unfortunately the results were far from expectations. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger star as the eponymous siblings, portraying them as traveling con-artists faking supernatural events in order to extort hard earned money out of superstitious townsfolk. Inevitably, real supernatural beings emerge, and they're forced to put aside their illusions and trickery in order to save a village from the evil Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci). If any Gilliam film epitomises the conflict between the artist and the studio it is surely The Brothers Grimm, with tales of persistent tensions between Gilliam and the Weinstein brothers during production near-legendary, tensions which only escalated once photography was completed and post-production began. The film certainly looks sumptuous - if over-laden with CGI (Gilliam tends to eschew computer graphics in preference for practical effects), and the performances are delivered with as much enthusiasm as the meandering script allows for. But in terms of tone and narration it is uneven to say the least - and while you could argue that much of Gilliam's work has something of a scatter-shot approach to structure, with The Brothers Grimm this feels less like a deliberate consequence of Gilliam's fascination with the whims of the imagination and more a product of an artistic force pulling incessantly against the dictates of producers controlling the purse strings. In an interview following the release of The Brothers Grimm, Gilliam said of Hollywood movies, "I keep feeling like 19th century academic painting. You'd see the huge canvasses they're brilliant, the technique is brilliant. Horses, the people, the battles. They're fantastic, but you don't respond to them and along came people like the Impressionists. Which must have looked incredibly bizarre and crude, but suddenly there was stuff there that grabbed the imagination again. And I just keep feeling that it has to happen in films." The Brothers Grimm - for all its visual flair and panache - feels rather like a part of the very problem he's describing.