June 23rd, 2004
Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Two Brothers" is a direct companion piece to his previous animal kingdom tale, "The Bear." Featuring a cast of two tigers and Guy Pearce, "Brothers" is a wonderful family film that doesn't condescend to its audience, nor cheapen the experience with flatulence gags and other kid flick crutches. It's just two tigers, their journey, and a whole lotta cute along the way.
Two tiger cubs born in the jungles of Cambodia at the turn of the century, Kumal and Sangha quickly learn the ways of the world when their parents are killed for sport, and the two brothers are captured and separated. Kumal is sent to a circus to be violently trained as a “blood-thirsty” performer, and Sangha is whisked away to the cages of a royal family, where he’s groomed for public battle. With the help of a rogue fortune hunter (Pearce), the two tigers might have a chance for a happy reunion, but not before being pitted against each other in a battle to the death.
Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Two Brothers” is another step in the director’s continuing quest to explore the nature of nature. A cross between a Disney “True Life Adventure” story and Annaud’s 1988 drama, “The Bear,” “Two Brothers” isn’t the most engrossing picture of the year, but it stands as a family film triumph that doesn’t rely on flatulence or condescension to speak to its young audience.
As a filmmaker, Annaud has superbly rendered many interesting sights and sounds through his pictures such as “Quest for Fire,” “The Name of the Rose,” and his last effort, the magnificent, “Enemy at the Gates.” “Two Brothers” is his first film to be shot in the digital video format, yet leave it to Annaud (and cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou) to finally take the format to new heights with this brightly photographed motion picture. The DV is necessary (a rare occasion), since the tale concerns the erratic actions of two very real life tigers, with Annaud using digital and animatronic tricks to convince the eye that these animals are actually interacting with humans and other creatures, or in severe danger, as found in a climactic jungle fire sequence. Though DV doesn’t penetrate the senses the way film can, “Two Brothers” remains a lovely and utterly convincing film to watch.
The stars of the film are the two tigers, Kumal and Sangha (who are hilariously, through deservedly, top billed in the opening credits), with Annaud telling the story through their eyes and actions with wordless abandon (the film is dialog-free for most of the runtime), much like he did with “The Bear.” Though heavily trained, the tigers are natural stars, conveying the required emotions for every scene, and putting their sleepy human co-stars to shame. In fact, every time the picture focuses on the human characters, “Two Brothers” loses steam immediately, and begins to drag its feet trying to include some actual actors in on the story. The picture is much more assured simply focusing a camera on the playing cubs, and seeing the world of hunting and animal butchery through their eyes.
Annaud’s love for the animal kingdom glows in almost every frame of the picture, and the film ends with a needed reminder on just how endangered these creatures are. “Two Brothers” is a fun, thoughtful, resourceful adventure for the whole family. You’d be doing your children a favor by taking them to see it.
My rating: B+