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Two Brothers (2004)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/20/04 14:20:55

"A great animal movie for people that love animal movies."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

It tells us a little something right at the beginning of “Two Brothers” that above-the-title billing goes not to any human actor, but to the tigers Kamal and Sangha. This is a movie of infinite respect and love for the animal kingdom, so why not show it right from the start?

I haven’t seen a film like this since “The Bear,” which is fitting, since “Brothers” is directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who also made that previous animal wonder. Annaud repeats himself with stunning, how’d-they-do-that? cinematography that follows the tigers through all sorts of wild adventures, with the camera getting so close that most scenes overwhelm you with a sense of awe. (And unlike several Disney pictures, there’s no effort here to give the animals human voices.)

Whereas “The Bear” studied the effects of humans invading a natural habitat, “Brothers” goes a little further, also examining how animals in captivity are treated. Here we have magnificent creatures stripped of their souls, tamed for our amusement. Sure, I have no desire to meet a ferocious tiger in the jungle, but it still breaks my heart to watch these beautiful animals broken and defeated.

The plot is more detailed than you might expect from this kind of film. It’s early 20th century French Indochina, and a family of tigers is disrupted when adventurer Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce) and his crew of scavengers begin looting an ancient temple, an arrival which leads to a tragic series of events, at the end of which the tiger parents are dead, one baby tiger (Kamal) is carted off to the circus, and the other (Sangha) becomes the pet of the French consul’s son.

The rest of the story I will not spoil. Things get worse for both tigers following a full year in captivity, and the movie’s most heartbreaking moment comes when Kamal, having a chance to escape back into the wild, instead returns to his cage, head held low, for that is all he has known. Natural instincts replaced by forced ones; man has ruined the spirit of another animal. (The irony of using trained animals to argue against animal cruelty is not lost on me, but I also have faith that the filmmakers treated these creatures with the utmost respect. Maybe I’m naive.)

The screenplay, written by Annaud and Alain Godard, does fill out the tigers’ story with more human action than expected. This is the film’s only stumble - the people here are more caricatures than anything else (the great white hunter, the bumbling administrator, the prince stuck in his father’s shadow, the corrupt circus owner). But these caricatures work in relation to the overall story. We’re not here for them. We’re here for the tigers. (For the record, Pearce delivers a wonderful performance anyway, a scoundrel on the brink of becoming a better man.)

As for those tigers, I’m not sure exactly how they did that, but I don’t think I want to know, either. Don’t want to ruin the magic of the movie. Oh, it’s obvious that it’s a combination of well-trained animals, animatronics, and CGI, but there’s still a level of absolute wonder to this production. Kamal and Sangha are magnificent animal actors, and the film’s so well put together that the illusion is near perfect. Through editing, scripting, photography, and the tigers themselves, we’re convinced that these brothers’ emotional ordeal is so very, very real. And that is where “Two Brothers” becomes a marvel of filmmaking, and a fantastic story sure to thrill, as they say, audiences of all ages.

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