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The New Danish Cinema

. "Brothers" (aka, "Brodre")

In an essentially intelligent psychological drama, director Susanne Bier shows us some sure-footedness in developing a complex story and engaging us with characters that make the traumatic stress disorder of war on a reasonable man compelling and revealing. That it doesn't entirely avoid some cliches, and borders on melodrama, doesn't spoil the timely interest of its core subject and the level of tension that it worthily generates.

Add to that a fine ensemble cast to bring us into it. The two brothers of the title are Michael (Ulrich Thomsen), a career military man who seems to excel at everything and is both a role model and an impossible standard to live up to for the family truant Jannik (Nikolai Lie Kaas, "Reconstruction"). His love and respect for Michael is intertwined with the rebelliousness that comes of despair at never living up. To make the point and the relationships clear, the film starts with Michael picking Jannik up when he's released from prison and suggesting, on the ride home, that he should apologize to the victim of his crime. Such propriety.

As though Jannik's own feelings of inadequacy aren't enough, they're copiously amplified by their stiff-backed Danish father who sees no problem with praising Michael like a god and downgrading Jannik like a sewer rat -- at the dinner table. Mom stands by for a little amelioration. The loving one.

Michael's wife Sarah (Connie Nielsen) is the one to watch. As far as Jannik is concerned, she has an underlying distaste for his errant ways but doesn't show it. She's also a Danish beauty and a loving, faithful wife.

All of which is only the setup for what's about to happen. Michael is called up for another stint in the military and, after tearful goodbyes during which his two young daughters deal with his departure in their own, hurtful ways, he ships out to Afghanistan. Where, on his first mission to find a missing soldier, his helicopter is shot down, he's captures by a warlord, locked up with his quarry, and pronounced dead by military investigators.

He will be rescued, but not before the warlord faces him with an untenable choice. And the one he takes not only scars his psyche, but turns him into the antithesis of what he was. Returning home after his miraculous survival, he is by turns suspicious of his wife and brother, helpless to combat his fears, violent and ugly. Even his daughters want nothing to do with him, preferring their playful uncle Jannik.

Kaas, with the kind of rough hewn size and demeanor that would make you stare as you cross the street to avoid, couldn't be more appropriate to the role of a careless underachiever with a threatening edge. The fact that the all-perfect achiever of the family is the dangerous one is a good twist of character to color the story with the unexpected.

The core of emotion that the plot revolves around and fastens us to is, however, Connie Nielsen, who should, by now, be a huge star in American Film. After spiking "Gladiator" with insight and beauty, breathing class into "One-Hour Photo," and intriguing us in "Demonlover," you'd think she'd be in at least as much demand as, say, Penelope Cruz, a distant second, talentwise. But, disappointment aside, there should be no doubt that with her ability to nuance her characters with levels of complexity, this lady's star is destined to rise.

Bier keeps us on our voyeuristic toes as the tensions increase, causing a certain feeling that we're being allowed to witness the private problems of a family going through a crisis of survival. The psychology of it is universal, touching civilized society beyond the borders of its origin. It casts some edifying light into the effects of the battlefield on the "regular guys" we once knew.

Despite a certain amount of dramatic exaggeration, if every film I see is as satisfying a complex human drama as this, I wouldn't have too much to complain about.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written
This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 9

Absolutely loved this movie. Too bad there are not more of this caliber. Outstanding performances by all.

                                                           ~~ rho 
Site rating: 5

unsatisfactry ending

                                                           ~~ i newman 

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Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Ulrich Thomsen
Brothers, a limited understanding

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