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BROTHERS (BRODRE) (director: Susanne Bier; screenwriter: Anders Thomas Jensen/story by Ms. Bier; cinematographer: Morten Søborg; editors: Pernille Bech Christensen/Adam Nielsen; music: Johan Söderqvist; cast: Connie Nielsen (Sarah), Ulrich Thomsen (Michael), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Jannik), Sarah Juel Werner (Natalia), Bent Mejding (Henning), Solbjorg Hojfeldt (Else), Paw Henriksen (Soldat), Laura Bro (Ditte), Rebecca Logstrup Soltau (Camilla); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sisse Graum Jorgensen/Peter Aalbaek Jensen; IFC Films; 2004-Denmark-in Danish with English subtitles)
“A haunting anti-war film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dannish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Dogme 95 film “Open Hearts”) presents a haunting anti-war film intermingled with an explosive psychological drama about the rivalry between good and bad brothers (think Cain and Abel!). Anders Thomas Jensen pens the screenplay from the story by Ms. Bier. Due to some powerful performances and a provocative moral dilemma that is realistically handled with great skill, the familiar plot and the contrived third act that smacks of phoniness do not entirely destroy this powerful drama–only put a few repairable bullet holes in it, considerably slowing it down.

Michael Lundsberg (Ulrich Thomsen) is a cocky major in the Danish Army, who is sent on a three-month U.N. peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. Though believing in the mission, he regrettably leaves behind his perfect family consisting of beautiful wife Sarah (Connie Nielsen, “Gladiator,” her first movie role speaking her native Danish) and two bratty but cutey pie little girls Camilla and her older sister Natalia. Jannik (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a drunken, belligerant, oafish, irresponsible drifter, is Michael’s troublesome, good for nothing, screw-up younger brother, who is picked up by Michael as he’s released from the slammer for bank robbery and assault on a teller and taken to a family dinner with their parents (Bent Mejding and Solbjorg Hojfeldt).

In Afghanistan Michael is in a helicopter crash and is presumed dead, resulting in his funeral. The stunned Jannik reforms by stopping his drinking binges, and in his new responsible behavior helps the widowed Sarah around the house and plays with his nieces giving them a sense of security from their loss. It leads to a growing intimacy between the middle-class widow and the ex-con that stops short after a hot kiss.

The film intercuts to Michael, who it turns out is alive and in a guerrilla prison camp locked in a darkened room with the panic-stricken Danish soldier he was on his way to rescue. Michael is rescued by the Brits but comes home unable to live with himself for the way he kept himself alive. Suffering from a bad case of post-traumatic stress syndrome, for which he evidently receives no counseling, he becomes irrational, sullen, filled with violent mood swings and a growing antagonism for his loved ones. Suspecting Sarah of screwing his brother, he becomes jealous and filled with resentment, which leads him to go on a rampage wrecking the house and threatening his family. Sarah is the voice of calm and reason who tries to hold her family together by trying to get hubby to open up about what happened in the war to unleash his dark side. Connie Nielsen’s assured performance pulls the film out of its forced Deer Hunter-like copycat hysterical melodramatic look and provides the viewer with the one truly sympathetic character to fall back on. She conveys a warmth and vulnerability which successfully grounds the film in its probing exploration of personal ethics–that civilians as well as warriors pay a terrific price for what takes place on the battlefields.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”