Posted by Aaron West, 6/23/04
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Starring Guy Pearce, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Christian Clavier
Running Time: 109 minutes
I can count on my fingers how many good animal films I've seen. Scratch that, I only need one finger. The Bear by Jean-Jacques Annaud has been the only animal feature I have truly enjoyed. Resultingly, my expectations were a little higher for Two Brothers, than they were for, say, Cats and Dogs -- much higher. With Guy Pearce in the lead role, this project seemed to have promise.
The brothers the title refers to begin as two baby tigers (Kumal and Sangha) living in the jungles of Southeast Asia. They become separated as hunters and circumstance force them away from their parents and into captivity.Neither adjusts well to his new role, mostly because they have been taken away from their families at too young an age, thus they never learned how to hunt and survive. Going any further would spoil the movie for you, but let me just say that they will meet again, in the most unlikely of situations.
Annaud again shows his skill working with animals and then some. The two tigers are as adorable as they come, and Annaud spends most of the first act developing them, while the audience is taken in by their charm. Their scenes together are priceless. Seeing them play together or seeing one of them stuck in a tree is enough for the most insensitive person to crack a smile. While all this activity delays the beginning of the narrative, it pays off later in the film as these character traits we see early become key plot points later.
Speak to any director about the difficulty in working with animals, and you will find that they are next to impossible to direct, even common domestic animals such as dogs and cats. Even with a good animal trainer, it requires the utmost patience from the director, and possibly an elastic budget from the producer. This is usually the reason that animal features often turn out poor. With this in mind, you can't help but be impressed with Annaud's work in Two Brothers. It is, without a doubt, the best use of animals in film, ever. At some points during the film, I had to question whether the tigers were real flesh and blood, and not CGI. They're real all right, and they alone make Two Brothers worth seeing.
Unfortunately, the humans don't rise to the same level as the animals. On the contrary, they are poorly written and horrendously performed. Guy Pearce is the greatest disappointment. Don't expect a Leonard Piere, or even an Ed Exley here. His turn as both fortune and animal hunter is the weakest of his checkered career. The other characters are even worse. They are all one-dimensional, hard as wood during their delivery, and they are given some atrocious dialogue to work with. I found myself praying for the tigers to return on every occasion where the humans dominated the screen.
During the middle act, with the tigers in captivity, the film hunches over and appears ready to fall. This is mostly the fault of the bland humans, who take the forefront during the middle of the film, while the feline heroes are relegated to their submissive captivity. They have nothing to do, and neither does the movie. It becomes almost unbearable to watch during this period, until is finally saved again by the tigers, with a phenomenal finale that rivals only the beginning.
The theme of the movie is a little too obvious, but that is to be expected (and forgiven), considering this is ultimately a children's movie. The overt message is the predictable "don't hurt tigers because they are cute and need to survive" but there is a bit more below the surface. Guy Pearce's character is a treasure hunter in addition to being one of the top wildlife experts, and this aspect of his character provides the film with an anti-greed, slightly anti-capitalist bent. He spends his time in ancient ruines, Siamese in this case, looking for historical relics, but instead of benefiting academia a la Indiana Jones, he sells them for a profit. Sometimes he even steals these artifacts from under the watchful gaze of the governments who allow him access. While the picture is thematically rich, it isn't implemented for full effect. Peace's artifact stealing and insurmountable greed are off to the side of the story at hand, which makes him and his development slightly out of place, and results in a messier film.
Two Brothers is difficult to like at many points, but the top-billed animals steal the show and make it a film worth seeing. In fact, I would go so far as saying they make it a must-see, but maybe on video. The biped characters, disjointed narrative and messy theme keep it from attaining the same level as The Bear, yet it is still a worthy effort, and gives hope for similar future efforts by Annaud.