Winner of the audience award at Sundance earlier this year, Brothers (Brdre), meticulously explores the emotional and psychological terrain of characters that are in a lot less control of surrounding circumstances than they claim or want to be. While angst-ridden story lines are nothing new to current Danish Cinema (remarkable and challenging features like Per Flys Inheritance and Christoffer Boes Reconstruction -- both commercially released last year in the U.S. -- have resolutely examined a few key subjects), it is quite bracing to observe young and talented filmmakers reassessing certain themes and issues with their own set of techniques and values. Lars Von Trier may now be fighting his "wars" elsewhere (though still from the comfort of his own home -- much to the chagrin of many), he has helped cultivate a crop of individualized talents who are just starting to make a name for themselves, and the director of Brothers, Susanne Bier, is just one of many. Right now, Danish cinema is one of the healthiest in the world.
In this emotional family melodrama, Bier vividly portrays three individuals whose internal turmoil pours out in the open once they have to deal with extraordinary events. Michael (Ulrich Thomsen of Inheritance and the Dogme hit The Celebration) is an upstanding individual, a well-respected army major, and a loving husband and father. On the other hand, his aimless younger brother, Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas from Reconstruction), is a drunk, a troublemaker who has just been released from prison for bank robbery and assault. However, once Michael is called in to help with reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Jannik partly assumes his role -- in helping his wife, Sarah (Connie Nielsen), and their two young daughters. Not long after Michael's departure, they get the devastating news that his helicopter was shot down and hes assumed dead. One way or the other, family dynamics have now changed forever.
Brothers is a relatively conventional story (at times it even resembles your average TV movie-of-the-week), but Bier has an acute sense of detecting various behavioral patterns in her characters. Her austere direction (aided by a somber score of Johan Sderqvist), a sharp and fast-paced screenplay (from Anders Thomas Jensen), but most of all, it's the performances that bring this film to greater heights. Nielsen, who gave a towering performance as a deliciously cold "corporate-demon" in Assayas demonlover (although shes most recognized for Gladiator), once again displays her talent which was often wasted by Hollywood (Nielson won the Danish "Oscar" for this role). Ulrich Thomsen is fine once again (although one wishes that some of the sequences involving him that took place in Afghanistan were handled better). Brothers doesnt quite reach the stature of Bier's previous film, the Bergman-esque Open Hearts (Dogme#28, 2002), but it is still a worthy effort.