Brothers' Nest

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/14/18 13:41:22

"No mere sibling rivalry here."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There should, by now, be a name for the class of crime film that starts as a screwball comedy but ends far from it in either feeling or deed, so that one can say a movie is this thing in just a few words and the person to whom it has been recommended won't feel misled. Whatever you call it, "Brothers' Nest" is an impressive example of that thing, dark as heck but often roaringly funny.

It starts with Australian brothers Jeff (Clayton Jacobson) and Terry (Shane Jacobson) surreptitiously approaching the family homestead in Victoria. The family has, individually and as a whole, fallen on some hard times lately, with the father's death, the mother's cancer, Terry's marriage falling apart… It's a whole bunch of things. So Jeff's come up with a plan, established an alibi, and now they've just got to wait until old farmhand and family friend Rodger (Kim Gyngell) comes by to groom the family's horse Freddie (who will be handed to a new owner next morning). But when he comes early, and their mother (Lynette Curran) is in the car, that messes everything up.

There's a pleasant idiocy to the way Jeff and Terry play off each other, the sort of poor planning that manifests as excessive complication and each brother pointing out something obviously foolish that the other is doing in turn. It's reliably funny stuff, and everybody involved is careful not to lose the fact that most people are just not naturally gifted in criminal situations as the movie darkens. There's bloody slapstick and dumbfounded double-takes, and even though it becomes less inherently funny, things going to hell in an absurd way still bring a reluctant chuckle and a shake of the head, because these guys, right?

The comedy's more of an undercurrent by then, but writer Jaime Browne and director Clayton Jacobson have moved smoothly into more intensely dramatic material, constructing suspenseful scenes out of a lot of the same raw materials as the more comedic ones but changing focus just a bit to get the tension heightened - the isolation that previously made Jeff's careful planning to avoid detection seem absurd becomes dangerous, and sites like an automobile graveyard that just looked kind of run-down and sad by the light of day is an unnerving setting for a potentially-deadly (and impressively staged) game of hide-and-seek by night. It also points to how carefully managed the whole movie is - things that could have been ridiculous indications that the brothers are just sad sacks at the front are revisited with exhaustion toward the end, gaining appropriate weight.

Clayton Jacobson also co-stars as Jeff alongside real-life brother Shane, and while it's exceptionally handy to be able to just look at the pair and immediately process them as people who have the exact same background but have perhaps traveled paths just different enough to bring them into conflict, presuming that how well they work together on-screen is particularly a result of their family ties sells each of them short. They are a fine pair who bounce banter off of each other exceptionally well, but it's what they do individually that really makes the movie: Shane's transformation of the good-natured, basically loyal Terry to someone with a reluctant bravery never feels forced, while the revelation of the bitter ruthlessness in Jeff's heart is just as effective.

A far cry from "pleasant idiocy", that, but it's not exactly an uncommon path and never feels like an unnatural one here.

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