From Forum With No Name:
Dock Miles: Terry Gilliam just got hammered in the New York Times
Not just by the New York Times (Manohla Dargis is cute, but I wonder about her taste sometimes--Batman Begins, The Skeleton Key and The Amityville Horror get a pass, but this doesn't?) , but by Roger Ebert, America's most powerful critic (no use trying to account for his taste--he likes Chris Columbus and Joel Schumacher movies).
Liked it a lot. The common complaint among the critics (clueless Ebert included) is that the tone varies wildly, from slapstick low comedy to whirling action movie to delicate (on occasion) horror film, to which I might ask: have they actually seen the Python movies or TV show? It's all one thing after another, wildly varied in tone and style; if you don't like what's happening now, you needn't worry, because in a few minutes you'll have Something Completely Different.
But something does unite the movie, I think, and the key is the early scene involving magic beans--one brother beats the other because he's too willing to believe in fairy tales. The brothers become hustlers out of necessity because they've always had a hardscrabble life (we're talking of Gilliam's brothers, not the historical ones); if the hard living conditions of the 19th century don't kill them (strangely, the most realistic aspect of Gilliam's film), the magical creatures and spells suddenly come to all-too-real life will. They have to cling to each other, believe in each other to survive, and this interdependence in the face of foreign oppression (one of the funnier throwaway jokes is a legend: "Germany under French occupation"), supernatural monsters, and Gilliam's own brand of larger-than-life filmmaking, is actually quite moving.
Might add that the most grotesque monsters in the picture are Jonathan Pryce as French officer Delatombe and Peter Stormare as Italian torturer Calvadi.