It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" is a work of limitless invention, but it is invention without pattern, chasing itself around the screen without finding a plot. Watching it is a little exhausting. If the images in the movie had been put to the service of a story we could care about, he might have had something. But the movie seems like a style in search of a purpose.
He begins with the Brothers Grimm, whose fairy tales enchant those lucky children whose parents still read to them. There is an eerie quality to the Grimm stories that's lacking in their Hollywood versions; no modern version of Little Red Riding Hood approaches the scariness of the original story, where the Big Bad Wolf was generated not by computers but by my quaking imagination.
Gilliam's intention is not to tell the fairy tales, however, although some of them have walk-ons in his movie; he makes the Brothers Grimm into traveling con artists, circa 1796, who travel from village to village in Germany, staging phony magic and claiming it is real. Wilhelm Grimm (Matt Damon) is the hustler of the outfit, a mercenary cynic. His brother, Jacob (Heath Ledger), sort of believes in magic. It has been thus since "Jake" and "Will" were children, and Jacob sold the family cow for a handful of magic beans.
The con artists are unmasked by Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce), Napoleon's man in Germany. But instead of punishing them, he dispatches the lads to the village of Marbaden, where children are missing and it appears that in the haunted forest "the trees themselves set upon them." Delatombe's bizarre torturer Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) is sent along to be sure the Grimms deliver the goods; they are apparently supposed to be 18th century ghostbusters, or maybe the equivalents of the Amazing Randi, unmasking fraud.