Two Brothers

"It is always fear that turns us into killers."

Jean-Jacques Annaud, the man who bored us to tears with Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy at the Gates, returns with Two Brothers, astonishingly dreadful “family entertainment” that, like Annaud’s 1988 film The Bear, uses real animals in filming much of the action. It takes a lot to make someone who likes animals as much as I do turn against them, but by God, Annaud did it, and by the end of Two Brothers, I wanted the tigers shot, the little kid mauled, and the filmmakers strung up by their ankles. The latter had two adorable, impeccably trained tiger cubs to compel us with, and still they botched it. Rocket scientists.

The biggest problem is that Annaud’s instincts are just way off. I’d be hard-pressed to find a single scene in Two Brothers that plays the way it should. What his crew manages to do with the animals is impressive, but he inevitably goes for cuteness instead of excitement or genuine sympathy, and our emotional investment in them can only be similar to that we make in a zoo animal. They’re cute, yes. But the movie wants them to be characters, and they’re not, not for a second. Maybe that’s because they’re never allowed to actually be animals — their every move and the film’s every shot is calculated to make us swoon or gasp. I did neither.

But if the animal action is bad, the human action is unspeakable. Guy Pearce shows up once in a while as a hunter/adventurer/writer who takes a liking to one of the adorable tiger cubs he finds and eventually vows to give up hunting forever. The film ignores him for most of its running time, and starts parading him around whenever we need a break from the romping tigers. There’s also an intolerable little kid named Raoul, and some nonsense about a government official who wants to build a controversial road. Annaud has a tendency to film conversations in awful, awkward close-ups, and cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou turns the images an unnatural brown, making the movie look like it belongs squarely on the small screen.

There is a highly dynamic climax and a dramatic realization that could have been gold in the hands of a better filmmaker. But Annaud doesn’t know what to do with it, and the result is an emotional flatline. What should have been heartrending is instead boring. The film miscalculates further by continuing beyond this point, contriving further conflict and giving us several more climaxes until everyone on the screen becomes a bad guy (or tiger) by virtue of being in the movie. A fair amount of movies eventually bore me, but this is the first in quite some time that has actively irritated me.

I’m not sure how much value this will have for kids — it seemed too slow to me, and it also begins with a ridiculous portrayal of tiger mating rituals (Annaud actually cuts away to statues at crucial moments). And unless staring at tigers for over 90 minutes is enough to entertain, it is torture for adults, who would presumably expect some degree of filmmaking competence in return for their full price admission. I went into Two Brothers expecting something harmless and inoffensive, and was astonished by the unmitigated disaster that awaited me.

-- Eugene Novikov

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