Reviews

Don't Confuse 'Brother's Keeper' With 'My Brother's Keeper'

Devote Christians will probably get more from Brother’s Keeper than non-believers, but this film is without a doubt better made and acted than most in its genre.


Brother's Keeper

Director: Josh Mills
Cast: Alex Miller, Graham Mille, Ray Wise, Daniel Samonas, Mackenzie Mauzy
Distributor: Alchemy
US Release Date: 2015-05-29

When I saw that the classic documentary, Brother’s Keeper (1992), which is about three illiterate, inbred, backcountry brothers who were brought to court and tried by civilization for their uncivilized ways, was getting a new 2015 DVD release, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. Because the 2003 IFC DVD edition of the film already includes some deleted scenes of interest, a solid audio commentary, and an additional short film about the brothers, I expected this new edition to have even more special features in addition to a much needed widescreen option. To put it mildly, I was excited to review a new release of one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.

But after rushing out of the Post Office, jaywalking across a six-lane road, running up the stairs to my rooftop apartment, and tearing the shipping box apart, I realized I let my excitement get the better of me... The DVD I had been assigned to review wasn’t the classic 1992 documentary Brother’s Keeper, but rather a straight-to-video 2013 melodrama about Christian values that went by the same name. I endured a brief moment of deep depression, but I then, like the professional I am, went ahead and watched this Brother’s Keeper (2013), which had some truly terrible trailers leading up to it and not a single special feature, with an open mind and objective eyes.

The phrase, “my brother’s keeper”, which is now such a popular movie title, has its roots in the biblical story of Cain and Abel. After Cain kills his brother, Abel, God asks him where he is, and Cain replies, “I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” Without analyzing the meaning of this phrase too deeply and instead taking it for what it is, it becomes obvious why these movies are titled so. The 1992 Brother’s Keeper is about a brother who reportedly kills his actual brother, and this 2013 Brother’s Keeper is about a brother who takes the blame for a killing committed by his brother.

It is, however, about so much more than that. While the themes include all the Christian clichés from forgiveness and revenge to redemption and sin, the story itself could be cut up and arranged to produce at least a half-dozen individual stories. At its most basic, Brother’s Keeper is about a small town in the '50s where a powerful and corrupt businessman, Herbert Leemaster (Ray Wise), calls the shots to such an extent that when his son, Gordon Leemaster (Daniel Samonas), kills the local prom queen, Maggie Malloye (Mackenzie Mauzy), he manages to frame the dead girl’s boyfriend, Pete Goodwynn (Alex Miller), and have him put on death row during which time he and his twin brother, Andy Goodwynn (Graham Miller), must confront both their past and future.

First-time writer and director Josh Mills isn’t the best storyteller, but he certainly knows how to frame a shot and get the best out of his actors. His camera, in fact, moves us through what is, when it comes down to it, a ridiculous story with a sureness that makes us, at least in spots, buy into what we’re watching. Meanwhile, in spite of being mostly no-names, all the actors put on decent enough performances. There’s plenty of the overacting that goes along with such faith-based melodramas, but it's the type of overacting that will at least cause a little moisture in your eyes that isn’t from unintended laughter alone.

Maybe, however, this eye moisture is mostly a result of the soundtrack. It would fit nicely into any of the Lifetime channel movies from the ‘90s and is designed specifically to trick our emotions into behaving in ways our brains deem pathetic — considering the farfetched story and its speechified morals. Regardless of how he does it, Mills manages to make us care about his characters and what happens to them. Therefore, the many twists and turns, some of which are predictable and overplayed but others shocking and inventive will keep you on, edge to be sure.

Devote Christians will probably get more from Brother’s Keeper than someone such as myself, but this isn’t the standard faith-based affair. Not only is it slightly better made and acted than most films in its genre, Brother’s Keeper raises questions through the situations its characters find themselves in, and how they choose to respond to said situations, that have more to do with life itself than any specific religion’s teachings. With Brother’s Keeper, Mills basically concludes that in this life bad things can and do happen to good people, but it's how one chooses to react to these bad things that, in the end, makes one good or bad. Healing through forgiveness is the message here.

5

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image