‘It’s not magic,’ Will admits of his brother Jake’s flashy armour. ‘It’s just shiny.’ ‘The Brothers Grimm’ is neither: supernature here is less stardust and glitter than mud, bark and fur with attitude, while the story that this robust woodland sorcery is pegged to is far from enchanting. Ehren Kruger’s script presents diligent story-gatherers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm as the Ghostbusters of German Romanticism, charlatan exorcists forced into heroism when they arrive in a Black Forest village struggling against both Napoleonic oppression and the disappearance of young girls under familiar storybook circumstances. Knowing revamps of fairytale lore are nothing new for Terry Gilliam (see his ‘Monty Python’ animations, ‘Time Bandits’ and ‘Baron Munchausen’) but the references here serve only as backdrop to a baggy, uncertain narrative that has none of the cruel logic or retributive bite of its sources. As worldly, horny Will and moony, scholarly Jake respectively, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger bring emotional plausibility to the fraternal relationship, with its embedded jokes and frustrations, but offer little to root for. ‘Feisty’ local girl Lena Headey is equally bland, while Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare’s Napoleonic villains soon irk. The child-snatchings do provide the basis for some strikingly nightmarish visual coups: one is gobbled up by a spider-web-mouthed horse which then gallops full-bellied through the woods; another is literally defaced then engulfed by a doughy mud-sprite with a cheeky grin. There are also intriguing nods at deeper concerns, contrasting the forest – a primal force impervious to rationality – against the obscenely self-justifying follies of imperialist occupation. Not enough, however, to add up to a happy ending.
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