When Matt Damon and Heath Ledger noisily enter the interview room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, they have good reason to be raucous. It's taken them two years to finally see their work in The Brothers Grimm arrive on the big screen, so long that two movies Damon made after shooting Grimm (The Bourne Supremacy and Ocean's Twelve) have since come and gone. Ledger, too, has made and promoted Lords of Dogtown in the time since working for months in Prague on the Terry Gilliam vision of the lives of the famous fairy-tale-telling brothers.
So what happened? That's what the small group of reporters in the room, finally in on the film's long-awaited press junket, want to know, and the guys were definitely willing to give their analysis about what has taken so long.
"My personal opinion is just Harvey and Bob [Weinstein, the heads of Miramax, the studio that produced the film] were why," said Damon, sporting a "Livestrong" T-shirt and doing most of the talking while a newly head-shaven and slightly scruffy Ledger looked on. "They had kind of bigger fish to fry over there. They were trying to make their deal and get out of the Disney deal, to start a new company, and there's the whole fight-I assume it's a fight-over the library, the Miramax library. All of that stuff will be huge. That's a pretty rarified air those guys are breathing. Even a movie that costs $80 million [like Grimm did] takes a back seat to that kind of negotiations and that kind of stuff."
But Damon (and Ledger, too) was sure that The Brothers Grimm would eventually see the darkness of a multiplex. "At the end of the day, it's an $80 millionmovie and there's no way that they're just going to not bring it out. I mean an $80 million movie, Harvey doesn't even normally make movies that are that expensive for Bob. So they would've been driving this thing like crazy, but they had other things happening. So I just knew that it was kind of a bigger kind of corporate thing going on, but the movie was fine and the movie was going to come out."
Waiting for the film to finally release was frustrating for the two lead actors (Monica Bellucci, Peter Stomare, Jonathan Pryce and delightful newcomer Lena Headey also star), but their aggravation was nothing compared to that of director Terry Gilliam. Gilliam, whose films include the wonderful Brazil, Twelve Monkeys and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, bluntly and readily voiced his frustration with why it has taken Miramax so long to release his adventure-fantasy flick.
"With Brothers, we reached that point that one always reaches as you finish a film, where you're getting close to the end, when [the studios] want to change the film. So they say 'Well, but what about if we change this, or why not that?' and I was just, 'No.' I always end up at that point on every film, and this time, because I was dealing with slightly more combative people, people who really are stronger in their feeling of what they want done. I tend to be that kind of person, too," Gilliam remembered, arriving to face us journalists after his stars had moved on to another room, in typical movie junket fashion.
"I thought probably the wiser move was that we just all go back to our corners and cool down for a bit, and the fact is, I had this whole timeline all ready to go. I was going to do another film," he continued. "So I said, 'You know, rather than getting into a big moment here where we either do a big compromise and nobody is going to be happy, or we just get into a head-butting contest, which again nobody is going to benefit, and the film is going to suffer, let's breathe.' So I went up to Canada to do Tideland, and then came back in January , when I was starting to edit Tideland, and they said, 'Please come finish your film!'"
The resulting flick is a PG-13 rated blend of fantasy, chicanery and comedy that Gilliam, Damon and Ledger are really hoping has not suffered by its long dormancy on the Miramax shelf.
"It's a fairy tale about the guys who wrote fairy tales, through the eyes of Terry Gilliam. And it's also an excuse for Terry to create an entire world, which is what he does so well, with wide-angle lenses and that eye to production design. I mean, his frames are so densely packed with information and all of these different elements that are all working together. He directs like no one else. You can always know that it's a Terry Gilliam movie, and it's great," Damon gushed.
The director agrees. "I'm relieved to get it out and hopefully, I'll be thrilled if it proves to be successful," Gilliam grinned. "It's all about reaching people. I don't care how we get to them, but once we can start corrupting the youth, I'm a happy person."
Going in to see The Brothers Grimm, it was hard to contain my excitement. I've loved Terry Gilliam's off-kilter vision of the world ever since his Monty Python days as actor, writer, animator, and even more once he started directing films. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is still one of the funniest comedies ever, and then there are his other classics: Time Bandits, Twelve Monkeys and especially Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, his most underrated film and most recent, released way back in 1998. For me, it had been way too long since there had been a new Gilliam movie to experience.
I was also eagerly anticipating The Brothers Grimm since the actors involved-Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci, Peter Stormare-usually pick pretty good movies on which to work. At first, the film seems ready to fulfill expectations, with an opening sequence that is exciting and intriguing, as we discover that the brothers are demon chasers, ridding small towns of their big problems in a 19th Century German landscape held in the grip of Napoleon's forces . Will (Damon) is the womanizer, and Jacob (Ledger) is the writer, who is collecting tall tales as they go.
But sadly, the movie quickly goes awry, as Gilliam and his cast lose their way in the very forest where much of the action takes place. The film is disjointed, often evoking a "Huh? What is going on?" reaction, because it just doesn't quite know what it is. Sometimes a comedy, sometimes a supernatural thriller, sometimes a horror flick, it never finds a cohesive tone, nor does it engage the audience into actually caring about the brothers, or anyone else involved in the convoluted plot.
The Brothers Grimm is visually fascinating, with Gilliam doing what he does best in creating a complete world of eye-popping images. Aside from that, the overwhelming feeling as the credits roll is one of disappointment. Perhaps he stayed away from making movies for too long.