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The Brothers Grimm

Excoriated by many critics on its 2005 release as a big, loud, convoluted mess, Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm is, frankly, none of those things. Okay, it's convoluted — but it's a Gilliam film, after all, and convoluted is just what the director of Brazil, Time Bandits, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and 12 Monkeys does best. Penned by hired-gun screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Scream 3), the movie actually has more Hollywood polish than most Gilliam efforts, with far less pointless whimsy than usual and a complicated story that actually ties its weirder elements together in a cohesive plot. In this utterly fictitious, deliberately loopy fairy story, Grimm brothers Jacob (Heath Ledger) and Wilhelm (Matt Damon) are traveling con artists who use props, costumes, and a pair of hired hands to fool superstitious villagers into believing that they're in danger from witches, demons, and the like — then offer to exorcise the evil for a fee. The ruling French magistrate, General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), nabs the hucksters and forces them to help him with a problem — young girls have been disappearing by supposedly magical causes from a small village in his jurisdiction, and Delatombe demands the Grimms catch whoever's behind it or face execution for their own cons. Accompanied by Delatombe's henchman, an Italian torture expert named The Great Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), Jacob and Will find themselves in over their heads as they gradually discover that there is real evil behind the disappearances — forcing them to overcome an evil queen (Monica Belluci), a forest of living trees, and a cadre of characters from fairy tale legend. It's difficult to say why critics savaged The Brothers Grimm — perhaps they were caught off-guard by the film's purposely tongue-in-cheek tone while still paying homage to the darkness of the Grimms' stories. Ledger and Damon are both excellent, cast against type with Ledger as the bookish Jacob, the sensitive brother who's catalogued folk tales since childhood, and Damon as the older, more assured Will, who prides himself on being a realist. Gilliam's direction for all the actors in this film brings out a goofy, over-the-top quality in their performances — far more Time Bandits than, say, The Fisher King — and everyone in the cast delivers beautifully. Stormare in particular, as the vainglorious Cavaldi, is consistently hilarious, both scary and somehow lovable at the same time. The Brothers Grimm uses far more CGI technology than any previous Gilliam film and the world he creates is, typically for the director, beautifully rendered — but much of the imagery is deeply weird and disturbing, with Gilliam's strange, obsessive fear of horses illustrated this time out with a scene that wouldn't be out of place in the creepiest of Japanese horror films. Despite problems between Gilliam and producer Harvey Weinstein that reportedly led to reshoots and last-minute changes in the film's ending, Grimm is a wonderfully strange, energetic, dark, and funny take on the world of fairy tales that is far better that may have been a box-office disappointment, but is hardly a disaster.

Buena Vista/Dimension's DVD release of The Brothers Grimm is as good as fans could hope — an excellent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that allows for every dark, art-directed detail to be gloriously clear, even in the low-lit scenes. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English or French, with optional English or Spanish subtitles) is superb, especially in the creepier forest scenes with footsteps, whistling wind, and creaking tree sounds enveloping the audience. A small handful of extras are included, starting with a smart, detail-oriented and thoughtful commentary track by Gilliam, plus 12 deleted scenes, the featurette "Bringing the Fairy Tale to Life" (16 min.), a standard promo piece with some nice behind-the-scenes clips, and a special-effects featurette, "The Visual Magic of The Brothers Grimm," with Gilliam and digital effects supervisor John Paul Docherty (8 min.). Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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