Published Jun 01, 2005Brothers is a fine yet flawed Danish drama focusing on post-traumatic stress syndrome as told through the parallel story of two brothers. Michael (Ulrich Thomsen, best known for The Celebration) is a successful military officer and a loving father of two daughters who's married to the beautiful Sarah (Connie Nielsen).
On the eve of his UN mission in Afghanistan, Michael welcomes home his brother, Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), from prison. Jannik did time for armed robbery but remains an irresponsible soul. He starts to change once the family learns that Michael has died in action. Despite his father's hostility towards him, Jannik becomes the surrogate father to Michael's children and perhaps Sarah's lover.
Meanwhile, in the mountains of Afghanistan, Michael is taken prisoner and traumatised. He is rescued by UN forces who return him to Denmark, but it's clear Michael is a changed man. He is now cold to his daughters and violent towards his wife, who senses a secret gnawing at him. In an ironic role reversal, a jealous, bloody rage at Jannik lands Michael in jail.
Bier builds suspense in the first half of the film by selectively inter-cutting scenes of Jannik's maturity in cozy, middle-class Denmark with Michael's ordeal in war-torn Afghanistan. Completing a job that his brother started, Jannik renovates Sarah's kitchen, which symbolises his growing domesticity. Contrast that with the torture Michael suffers in the wilderness and the results are jarring and memorable.
However, Brothers loses direction once Michael returns home. The focus falls squarely on Michael while Jannik's story takes a backseat. Where does he go? Suddenly, Bier discards the story of the brothers' personality switch that she was building up nicely and concentrates on Michael's post-traumatic stress. At times, it feels like Brothers isn't certain which story it is telling. Another weakness is Sarah's one-dimensional character, despite Nielsen delivering an assured performance. Nonetheless, Brothers is redeemed by fine acting and strong storytelling. Overall, it is a rewarding film. (Seville)