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
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
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
~~ Jules Brenner