When I first reviewed The Brothers Grimm in 2005, I found myself defending the film against people who dislike any but the most straightforward narratives, fans of Terry Gilliam and even a few of my friends (you know who you are). After watching it again for this review, I realized I’d do it all over again—except, of course, no one’s attacking it now. I have no idea if it’s been generally reevaluated by Gilliamphiles and afforded a higher place in Terrydom, but it ought be. It ought to be for sheer visual beauty alone—the movie looks like a Pre-Raphaelite painting come to life (it deliberately evokes Millais’ Ophelia at one point). The problem for the Gilliam contingent really comes down to the idea that The Brothers Grimm is too “normal,” while for many others, it’s too “weird.” All I can say is that I wish more mainstream films were “normal” like this rich blend of history, fantasy, horror, comedy and even political allegory.
The film tells a wildly fantasticated story that purports to be about the famous brothers and the origins of their collected fairy tales. It’s history as fantasy—a fairy tale about the creation of fairy tales—and that seems a pretty clever approach to the inherently uncinematic prospect of a biopic on writers. (Face it, writing isn’t very lively from the outside.) The film is built around a central story that allows Gilliam to incorporate bits and pieces of a number of fairy tales into its framework, though this is done in a way that isn’t as cute as that probably sounds. Indeed, one of the joys of The Brothers Grimm lies in its portrayal of the fairy tales as very dark. It returns the stories to their pre-sanitized origins. There is true horror here and some distinctly nightmarish visions. If you’ve never seen it, give it a shot. If you saw it and dismissed it, maybe a second look is in order.