There are at least ten good reasons to go see Two Brothers, especially if you take children along for the ride. It's a delightful success thanks to …
- Director Jean-Jacques Annaud. The director's "grownups-only" films have been hit-and-miss affairs (The Name of the Rose, The Lover, Enemy at the Gates, Seven Years in Tibet), but his "all-ages" films are delightful, unusual, and exemplary. In 1988, he gave us The Bear, one of the most awe-inspiring animal stories ever filmed. With Two Brothers, he's in his element, filming the natural world and considering a clash of cultures. Annaud turns down the typical sentimentality characteristic of Disney films; he makes the beasts seem real, and the threat of humankind's encroachment on their territory is portrayed with enough realism to make even the grownups in the audience flinch. Even though he avoids the uncomfortable fact of a tiger's predatory nature and keeps the camera clear of carnage, he gives us a powerful vision of the majesty and strength of these animals. They're not anthropomorphized stuffed toys.
- Skillful storytelling. The Two Brothers of the title are sibling tigers Kumal, the bold and adventurous one, and Sangha, the timid one. During their childhood of playful antics in the Southeast Asian jungles, they're separated from their parents by a hunting expedition, led by treasure hunter Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce of Memento and L.A. Confidential). McRory's after ancient statues from the Buddhist temples, but he gets more than he bargained for when the temple proves inhabited. Thus, Kumal and Sangha learn the capabilities of human beings and their guns, and they are captured and separated by the hunting party.
Kumal is sold to a circus, where he is mistreated and forced to become the stunt tiger for a mean-spirited trainer named Zerbino (Vincent Scarito) and a ringmaster named Saladin (Moussa Maaskri) in a low-budget Siegfried and Roy act.
Meanwhile, Sangha is adopted by Raoul (Freddie Highmore), the young son of a regional governor, French colonialist Eugene Normandin (Delicatessan's Jean-Claude Dreyfus). Sangha proves to be a difficult pet, and is eventually turned over to the heartless local prince (Oanh Nguyen), where he is trained to be a killer for show.
Alongside the story of the tigers, Annaud weaves other stories that will interest grownups more than children. McRory wanders from jungles to prisons, from British auctions of ancient artifacts to traveling on the backs of elephants for treasure hunting expeditions. McRory's not just a fortune hunter; he's also a writer of adventure novels about hunters confronting powerful beasts. Raoul's mother Mathilde (Phillipine Leroy-Beaulieu) is a big fan of the novels, and the adults in the audience get a good chuckle out of watching her read one of them to the boy at night. After he's fallen asleep, she continues reading, clearly "affected" by McRory's masculine prose. But the real romance occurs only in subtle, flirtatious interaction between McRory and an Asian beauty named Nai-Rea (Mai Anh Le).
Annaud's plot suggests deeper explorations of innocence lost, cultures at war, the effects our actions have on our environment, and more. Best of all, it's that rare kind of comedy—simple humor that is more observed than contrived, based on the personalities, behaviors, and folly of animals and humans alike, rather than forced through crass punchlines or annoying sidekicks.
The cast. Guy Pearce, right at home in Eddie Bauer wilderness khakis, exudes intelligence, confidence and sensitivity in yet another fine performance. (Apparently he took the part because he loves cats.) He's at his best when he bonds with young Raoul, counseling him—and all of the children in the audience—that it's a bad idea to raise a tiger cub as a pet. The supporting cast is well-chosen, especially Jean Claude-Dreyfuss, who makes the French colonialist naïve and self-absorbed without making him revolting, and Mai Anh Le, who brings grace, subtlety, and beauty to her scenes with Pearce.
- Nature.Two Brothers gives us a 109-minute vacation in the jungles of Cambodia and Thailand. He may not film the natural world with the poetry and awe-inspiring vision of Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), but he knows better than to distract us from it with gratuitous effects. He knows the sunny glory of tigers, and he fills the screen with stripes, claws, fangs, and those mysterious golden eyes.
- History.Two Brothers offers us an unusual window on rarely filmed corners of the world, recreating an interesting piece of history in which cultures mixed with nervous tension.
The themes. The importance of family relationships—brother to brother, father to son—are given plenty of proper attention in the stories of the cubs, young Raoul, and the Asian prince. McRory also learns a deeper respect for the histories and environments of other cultures, especially when those quiet reprimands come from the gorgeous Nai-Rea.
While these messages are clear, and although there is an afterword that impresses upon us just how rare (and indeed—endangered) these magisterial creatures have become, none of this is shoved down our throats. Annaud prods us to think about wildlife conservation and the plight of the environment, but he does so without sermonizing. He impresses upon us the value of the natural world by capturing its beauty and energy with the vivid cinematography of Jean Marie Dreujou (Man on the Train), who was bold enough to take on the great outdoors with new digital cameras. No annoying voiceovers, no animals breaking into maddening songs.
- Responsible all-ages entertainment. You won't find a better all-ages show in the theatres. Please note that children and adults alike will find some chapters discomforting as the animal characters suffer mistreatment (without the actual animals themselves being harmed.) This is not a sanitized, sweet nothing of a movie. Rather than putting lessons in the mouths of talking animals, it shows us its lessons through pictures that are sometimes difficult to watch. In that, it's far more effective, more compelling, and more honest than the critter-character cartoons that kids are used to seeing.
What it doesn't have. There isn't an assault of Two Brothers merchandising that your kids will want to run out and buy. There's no video game. The film's special effects are simple and undistracting, letting us focus on God's own special effects. The flow of the story is never interrupted by annoying singalongs. None of the characters have wisecracking sidekicks that make you wish you had a rifle. Best of all, Annaud does not feel the need to stuff the film with pop culture references or sexual references "to please the adults," but instead ensures that the story is well-told. After all, a story that is "just for kids" isn't a good enough story; the best children's stories remain rewarding for their parents as well.
- Stars that know something about integrity. You won't be hearing about Kumal and Sangha in the grocery stand gossip papers. You won't see them in drug rehab or sex scandals, and as long as they're carefully handled, they won't be roughing up the paparazzi (hopefully). They also received appropriate salaries for their work. They're performers who know their place, and they're an example to Hollywood's elite.
- How should human beings treat wild animals? Why? What if they're endangered?
- At the beginning of the film, Aidan McRory is taking whatever he can for his own gain, but by the end, he has changed. What changed him? How is he different? Is this an improvement?
- The staged tiger fights seem inappropriate as "entertainment." We might not have tiger fights in our culture, but kinds of entertainment do we have that are similarly inappropriate?
- What can we see in the story of the tigers that relates to human behavior? What do you think of the tiger family? How did they treat each other?
- Some creatures are made to be hunters and kill other creatures. Are they evil? Why or why not? How are humans the same as animals? How are we different?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Two Brothers is rated PG for some mild violence between animals and human beings. Two men are attacked by tigers, but the film is surprisingly bloodless. There is the slightest hint of a married woman's carnal attraction to another man, but it is only the slightest of references, and it is not portrayed as an admirable thing.
Photos © Copyright Universal Picturescompiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 07/01/04
After reading my review ofTwo Brothers, some parents who took their children to the film wrote to complain that it was too scary for younger kids.
I apologize to anyone who saw the film based on my positive review, and came away disturbed by some of the film's scenes. But my review also was clear that the film is rated PG (and thus, by definition, not necessarily suitable for all audiences), and I included a warning about the suffering of the animal characters. Specifically, the main characters—sibling tigers named Kumal and Sangha—are mistreated by humans. Similarly, their parents come to an untimely and distressing end, much like in Bambi. Parents should know this before taking their children to the film.
Kumal, the bold and adventurous one, and Sangha, the timid one, grow up in the Southeast Asian jungle, discovering the wide world until they are separated from their parents by a hunting expedition. Before long, Kumal is sold to a circus, where he is mistreated and forced to become a stunt tiger. Sangha goes from being a pet to the son of a French colonialist to being a caged souvenir for a hard-hearted prince. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud's story brings the tigers' adventures to a fitting conclusion that affirms the bond between brothers and the power of learning.
"[It's] the year's best family film," says Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films). "Annaud's skill and subtlety elevate what is essentially a simple, fable-like throwback to the sort of live-action feature Disney used to make in the 1950s. Annaud's real glory … is in eliciting and/or capturing the moments he wants from his photogenic performers. Sensitive children may find the bleakness and tension of some of the brothers' misfortunes a bit much, though these are hardly the dominant notes in the film and there's more than enough tenderness, comedy, and triumph to balance things out."
Andrew Coffin (World) calls it "an involving adventure tale for kids with enough subtlety and nuance for parents, a rarity among 'family' films. [It] may be the most rewarding family film of the summer."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it "a film burning bright with both beauty and heartfelt emotion. Annaud … earns his stripes in Two Brothers, combining stunning wildlife photography with sure-handed storytelling to craft a feel-good fable about the bonds of family and the healing power of love."
"Two Brothers will challenge us to think about what it means to be stewards of the world's animal kingdom," says Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk), "even as it entertains and charms us."
Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) says, "More than just a quality family film with lessons for all but the youngest ages, Two Brothers is a big-screen fix for those of us who visit the zoo just to stand in awe of the Bengal tiger, God's breathtaking paradox."
Greg Wright (Hollywood Jesus) says, "Children really do respond well to Two Brothers, and here's why: it's about loss, growing up, and recovery. Even children who grow up in 'functional' families feel, at times, as if they're missing one or more parents. The plight of Sangha and Kumal at being separated from each other (and from their parents) will draw children in; and the story of their growth, their reunion, and their return to the wild—to their home, and to their family—is a tale to inspire hope in the hearts of children who have known loss."
"Two Brothers gives us an opportunity to spend some time in close proximity to a magnificent species," says Michael Elliott (Movie Parables), "one which is becoming rarer and rarer according to the film's postscript. This film illustrates two points. First, that having a teacher is vitally important if we are to learn anything beyond what we already know. Secondly, no lesson needs be permanent. Some bonds are stronger than any behavioral conditioning we may be forced to endure."
"Besides being visually captivating, it is a great story for kids about family bonds, sibling affection, and respect for nature," writes Steve Beard (Thunderstruck). "While the movie does probe the ramifications of keeping wild animals in captivity, it does so without hitting you over the head with the butt of a hunting musket."
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