Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Two Brothers
aka Deux Freres : France 2004 : Jean-Jacques ANNAUD : 109 mins
A hit across the Channel, tiger-tale Two Brothers suffered what one pundit called “embarrassing” fate at box-offices across the pond, trampled by behemoths of the Shrek, Spider-Man and Harry Potter variety. Perhaps children, at whom the film is principally aimed, have now become too accustomed to spectacular, computer-boosted fantasy: because while there are some niftily-integrated special-effects on show, this is a defiant throwback to older schools of ripping yarn. The kind penned, in fact, by its principal human character, buccaneering 1920s adventurer/writer Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce).
Plundering an ancient temple in an unspecified jungle corner of French-ruled Indochina, McRory disturbs a family of tigers: two parents, two young cubs. The mother and one cub escape, but the father is killed and the other cub is captured. After various mishaps, ‘Kumal’ ends up in a circus, while brother ‘Sangha’ becomes the caged pet of the spoiled young local potentate (Oanh Nguyen). Some months later, the rapidly-growing pair are inadvertently reunited when brought together to fight in a roman-style amphitheatre for the ruler’s amusement. But when they promptly escape, McRory is charged with hunting them down…
While this is an odd career-choice for a man hovering on the edges of Hollywood stardom, Pearce handles his sparse dialogue with impressive – if impassive – period solidity. But nearly everything else involving the (beastly) humans is an embarrassment: wooden actors crudely essay a range of caricatured ‘exotic’ stereotypes, their clunky dialogue further mangled by clumsy dubbing and Stephen Warbeck’s distractingly manipulative, horribly intrusive score.
Amazingly, however, none of this really matters: the fearfully-symmetrical felines are spellbinding presences – cute in their youth, majestic as young adults. And Annaud (who could nevertheless learn a thing or two about timing and grace from his quadrupeds) thankfully relates their remarkable adventures sans excessive anthropomorphism. His heart is emphatically in the right place: end titles chillingly inform us that the numbers of wild tigers has now declined to around 5,000. And the finale (whose last shot is amusingly – though coincidentally – reminiscent of the closing image from Gibson’s Jesus H Christ) packs an unexpectedly moving (and lasting) punch. Preparez vos mouchoirs!
12th July, 2004
(seen 5th June : Vue, Leicester : press show – Cinema Days event)
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by Neil Young