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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.35%
Worth A Look60.87%
Average: 4.35%
Pretty Bad: 30.43%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Brothers (2005)
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by dionwr

"Arbitrary, unconvincing and forgettable drama"
2 stars

There's a certain type of film that will always lose me. If, at any time in a movie, the explanation of why the characters have done something boils down to that they're doing it because the scriptwriter told them to do it--I'm gone. "Brothers" is a scriptwriter-told-them-to kind of movie.

Susanne Bier's drama starts out well, with fine, economical portraits of the two brothers, Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) and Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). Michael is the good family man and the responsible one, a major in the Danish army, while Jannik is just out of prison for a bank robbery, during which he beat one of the tellers so badly she was disabled and had to go on relief.

In the first scene, Michael picks up Jannik at the prison as he's released. Driving him home, Michael tells Jannik that he has the address of the woman Jannik beat, should Jannik want to go and apologize to her. Jannik goes into a perfectly rendered adolescent tantrum, loudly denounces Michael for "interfering" in his life, and abandons the car, and Michael, to walk. Michael stands by the car, trying vainly to get his brother to calm down and get back in the car, and you can see a tired resignation to him, a sad certainty that it won't happen. At this point you feel like you know these guys. You have a real sense of Jannik as a man who goes through life cutting off his nose to spite his face. And Michael seems a decent sort who is perhaps trying a bit too hard.

Unfortunately, after proving she can draw her characters, Biers and her screenwriter, Anders Thomas Jensen, start the plot in motion. and it moves independently of the characters she's drawn. Michael, the Danish army major, leaves for a tour of duty in Afghanistan, is shot down in a helicopter and presumed dead. I certainly presumed he was dead, because you see the crash, and the helicopter falls at least 300 ft into a lake at high speed, on fire from the missile that shot it down. When we eventually cut to a shot of Michael, unconscious by the side of the lake, establishing that he's survived, there's a major moment of disbelief. How on earth could anyone survive that?

It's the sort of moment you cluck at, but you're willing to spot the filmmakers a single miracle, because the film starts so well. Their lack of knowledge of physics may have come from too many years of watching movies, and not having any human understanding that the wreck they showed was not, could not be, survivable. They probably ducked the science classes when they went to school, and took all the lazy, artsy-fartsy easy credits they could. So the discriminating viewer will let it slide.

Meanwhile, back home, Jannik bonds with Michael's grieving widow, Sarah (Connie Nielsen). As Jannik starts trying, bit by bit, to be helpful to her, it becomes pretty obvious that the intention of the movie is to have the two brothers change places. But as Jannik starts making more of an effort to help, his motivation is, more and more, that it's what the scriptwriter is telling him to do. I slowly stopped believing it. Where's the self-centered bastard with the chip on his shoulder and the bad attitude from the start of the film? He's gone, and Jannik slowly turns responsible and self-controlled. The scriptwriter told him to.

I was reminded of Mark Twain's essay on Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, where he states that, "...when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation shall justify said description." Someone should send Biers a copy.

However, If you go with this unmotivated transition of Jannik, the film could work for you. It certainly has a pedigree. "Brothers" won an audience favorite award at Sundance, and a slew of nominations at the Bodil film festival, and Connie Nielsen actually won the best actress award at Bodil for her portrayal of Micahel's wife, Sarah. She's fine in a role that requires her to react to what's happening around her, however unbelievable that may be. She plays the slow beginning of an attraction to Jannik particularly well, as he becomes more and more like the dead (they think) husband she loved. But I kept wishing she'd question Jannik's transition more, and notice the moments when Jannik does things that seemed clearly not in his nature at the start of the film. I don't believe his change; why does she? Well, the scriptwriter told her to.

Meanwhile, Michael, a prisoner of the Taliban, is tortured by them until he suddenly completely snaps, and then immediately gets rescued. (Convenient, that!) As unbelievable as the scenes of Jannik trying to be a good guy slowly become, the scene of Michael going bad jumps the shark in one go, in a scene so ludicrous it's laughable. Michael goes from being a stalwart, decent man to total meltdown with no warning and damned little pushing. I wasn't surprised by this scene, though. It was inevitable, because Biers is slavishly following her schematic of the brothers changing places, and it was necessary that Michael have something happen that makes him go bad at that point. I was astonished at how ineptly she did it. Ulrich Thomsen acts up a storm trying to sell it, to no avail.

The scene is also hurt by Biers's silly portrayal of the Taliban, which seems to be based entirely on bad cliches from old war movies. It certainly bore no relationship whatsoever to the real Taliban, who would have either happily ransomed a Danish major or beheaded him, but not gone in for the lip-smacking, cliched, torturing bad-guy behavior shown here. They resemble the Vietcong in "The Deer Hunter," or the Japanese in so many World War II movies.

So the scene is set for Michael to come home, theatrically wracked with survivor guilt, and turn into a true and total asshole, Jannik, of course, is now the ubermensch, trying desperately to help his increasingly irrational brother. Michael, suffering insane jealousy as to how close Jannik has gotten to Sarah, will act worse and worse the more Jannik tries to help him.

Again, if you're willing to go with the unmotivated change of the characters, the film could work for you.

On a scene-by-scene basis, this is fine. The start and the end of the movie are both believable. It's the path that gets us from the one to the other that isn't. In the end, the film ends up a forgettable wash.

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originally posted: 06/14/05 09:13:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest For more in the 2005 Deep Focus Film Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell potent drama about the effects of war 4 stars
12/28/05 Steven P completely unbelievable and poorly acted 2 stars
10/19/05 Carl A Fictional Movie is Proof? hmmm.... 3 stars
10/04/05 Elizabeth S Susanne Bier is a major talent! Powerful film, though "Open Hearts" is better. 4 stars
5/13/05 Lois Markle Proof that the war goes on even when the soldier returns home. 5 stars
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  06-May-2005 (R)
  DVD: 20-Sep-2005



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