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The Brother – Review


Release Date: 16 September 2016
Director: Ryan Bonder
Writer: Ryan Bonder
Cast: Tygh Runyan - Jed Rees - Noemi Merlant - Anthony Head - Belinda Stewart-Wilson - Rob Dixon



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Posted July 31, 2016 by

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The Brother Review:

The London-set thriller ‘The Brother’ could be a remarkable work what is claimed in the production notes is true: that the writer-director Ryan Bonder was born deaf. Imagine making a film that you cannot experience as your audience does. You have to trust that what you’ve done works. The nearest thing I could imagine is having your novel translated into a language that you don’t speak and that novel is the only version of your work that exists – you recognise the shape of the paragraphs but are not entirely sure of their meaning.

Canadian-born Bonder has one credit to his name, the 1999 film ‘DayDrift’ about a has-been photographer (Jed Rees) who loses his camera and finds some pictures that connect him to his past. It was set Bonder’s home town of Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada’s tournament capital – population 86,000. Bonder spent the turn of the 21st Century in advertising before coming up with the plot of ‘The Brother’ during a long run.

I would like to tell you that ‘The Brother’ is one of those thrillers where the director has a sure grasp of his material, there are thrills and surprises at every turn and that it builds to an intense, unforgettable finish. Alas, none of this is true. The film is leaden, at times badly acted and only has its crisp cinematography (by Brian Johnson) to recommend it.

It exists in the parallel universe of the London crime thriller, where individuals can enter properties undetected, there are only plain clothes police (well, saves on the costume bill) and a villain is staple-gunned to floorboards before the nails are removed with a hammer. Unrealistically, it is the hero, Adam (Tygh Runyon) who is ruining his own apartment.

Adam is a man with a dark past. He works at Tate Modern, recommended as a place where they don’t check your references if the film is to be believed. Adam is hiding. Once he was involved in crime of an unspecified nature, which could be pinching lingerie from a washing line for all we know. He has a well appointed flat – that’s an awful lot of stolen lingerie – and isn’t worried about Council Tax. In the Middle East, he saw a young boy being shot. The image haunts him. A boy in a kaftan turns up in his apartment at regular intervals – he really ought to do something about those locks.

The plot has something to do with his father, Jack (Anthony Head) – as opposed to Father Jack, who is an all-swearing character on ‘Father Ted’. I dearly wish Father Jack had turned up, rather than Jack, played by Head in a daze. Jack has Alzheimer’s and his other son, Eli (Jed Rees, the star of ‘DayDrift’) is on the autistic spectrum. Adam starts dating a young woman, Claire (Noemi Merlant) who left her coat behind in the Tate’s cloakroom. She turns out to be deaf.

Adam’s uncle Reuben (Rob Dixon) hires Adam for one last job, to move a man, Rahim (Ziad El-Hady) from a safe house. Only the safe house contains two men, neither of which owns up to being Rahim. In real life, Adam would use his camera phone to take a picture of both men, send it to his uncle – or his contact – and ask ‘which one is it?’ But no, this is the movies, so both men have to be beaten up. Adam is supposed to be the hero. He could be pummelling a man who cannot understand his (very slight) Canadian accent.

The job is done. But Jack’s debt – Reuben got him out of jail in Colombia, apparently – is far from paid. Jack has an incriminating hard drive – and Reuben wants it. Jack has also had sex with Reuben’s mistress (Belinda Stewart-Wilson). I say ‘had sex’ – it is some of the worst simulated intercourse seen in any movie. All Bonder had to do was cut to black. At one point, Eli points a gun at a character and shoots. Nothing comes out. Again, all Bonder had to do was cut to black.

The dialogue is derivative tough guy nonsense. It feels atonal. There isn’t a single relationship that you believe in. The best moment is the introduction of Jack, listening to Eli as he plays the piano in King’s Cross Station. The surprise is perfectly executed. Then Bonder has to spoil it all with the next shot – Jack sticking his head of a car window as Adam drives. No one ever sticks their head out of the window in London traffic.

At one point, Eli takes Jack to King’s Cross Station to put him on a train to escape some gangland thugs. But Jack isn’t even taken to his train but wanders around the concourse looking lost. Head the actor is lost too – you feel for the actor, bereft of direction.

When Jack is confronted by Reuben he pulls a gun on him and Reuben talks about the past, an anecdote about how Jack rescued him from bullies. Then Jack recalls how much he hated his brother for being so weak. We pretty much know how the scene will turn out.

The worst piece of direction occurs when Adam is lying on the ground, apparently gunned down – he was nasty to Rahim’s friend, after all. Then he closes his eyes really quickly. It is supposed to symbolise something else but comes across as bad acting.

Does anyone (besides Brian Johnson the cinematographer) emerge from the film with any credit? Belinda Stewart-Wilson (from the TV series ‘The Inbetweeners’) comes on like a young Frances Barber, tough as nails. She delivers the dialogue like an unstoppable snow plough, which I guess is what the Canadian director wanted. Noemi Merlant does reasonably well with her scenes, though I could not work out how Adam deduced she was deaf.

Genre can be a cruel mistress, exposing your weaknesses. ‘The Brother’ is a case in point. The film darts around from London locations – the South Bank, Shoreditch, Alexandra Palace and Canary Wharf – without any feeling for the city. Bonder really needed a better concept on which to hang his movie, perhaps related to the point of view of Claire. Bonder cites Jacques Audiard as an influence but ‘The Brother’ is no ‘Read My Lips’. I hope next time he makes a film based on experience.


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Larry Oliver
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