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The Past Looks Bright for the Brothers Grimm

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as the Brothers Grimm. Lena Headey as the Huntress. Monica Bellucci as The Mirror Queen.

We forget that the innocent fairy tales we tell our young were born of darker times. Over the centuries, their horror has been blunted, but our children surely sense their ominous nature. Terry Gilliam confronts us adults with the dark, malevolent heart of these ancient bedtime tales of terror, and suffuses them with his own brand of macabre humor in The Brothers Grimm.

Familiar elements from the siblings’ famous works are revealed in all-to-real tragedies and quirky vignettes as they wreck havoc in tumultuous 17th century Europe. The movie’s gallows humor can always be found creeping in from the edges, or suddenly bubbling up in a bit of choice dialog, but the film reeks of the sinister, all-encompassing evil that Mr. Gilliam seems to relentlessly inflict upon his unlikely heroes.

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are quite believable as the brothers Grimm, both unified and at odds due to their shared tragedies and travails. As their forest guide, Lena Headey is the exact opposite of the archetypal “damsel in distress”, but her distinctly modern portrayal fits the tale as well. The exquisite Monica Bellucci is consigned to a key, yet minor role. This film reminds us once again that she truly is the fairest of them all.

All in all, Brothers offers a dizzying smorgasbord of legendary characters, enchanting visuals, malevolent miscreants and reluctant knights in shining armor. It would be childish of us to ask for anything more.

Written by in August of 2005. Last edited March 2019.

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