PG for mild violence (see note at bottom
of the review)
June 25, 2004
1 hr., 49 min.
Guy Pearce, Christian Clavier, Freddie Highmore
Jean-Jacques Annaud, Alain Godard
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By Phil Boatwright
The Movie Reporter
- In 1989, "The Bear," a captivating movie about
the adventures of an orphaned bear cub and its protector, a giant
Kodiak, caused me to exclaim, "Wow, what a great film-going experience."
The makers of that adventure have just completed "Two Brothers,"
a Rudyard Kipling-ish fable concerning twin tigers whose idyllic life
is interrupted by plundering white hunters. Once again, I say, "Wow,
what a great film-going experience!" Bravo to writer/director
Jean-Jacques Annaud, who maintains that the greatest special effect
is still the process of storytelling.
Set in the jungles of Southeast Asia, it quickly becomes apparent
that the film is a parable dealing with friendship and the bond between
brothers. The two tiger cubs - one shy, the other bold - are cruelly
separated by fate. The bold brother is sold off to a circus, where
homesickness and living in a cage rob him of his spirit. The shy cub
becomes the beloved companion for the governor's lonely young son,
until the child is forced to give him away to a man resolved to break
his gentle nature and turn him into a fighter for sport. A year passes
and the brothers find themselves reunited - but as forced enemies
pitted against each other.
The often-breathtaking cinematography, the exotic locations filmed
around the temples of Angkor near the Cambodian city of Siem Reap,
the director's energized pacing, and the actors, especially Guy Pearce
("Memento," "L.A. Confidential"), who seems genuinely
simpatico with his feline costars, each blend together, giving viewers
a colorful, enchanting tale.
Then there are the animals. As cubs the expressive tigers continually
garner awes and giggles from the audience. Later, fully grown, they
generate a mix of wonder and respect. And thankfully these cats don't
talk. Oh, they communicate. Very clearly. But director Annaud and
associates wisely eschew conventional voice-over narration and there's
no cutesy dialogue uttered by the likes of Gilbert Gottfried. Like
people, animals have personality. The fact that the animals' persona
has been captured on film reflects the regard -- and patience -- the
filmmakers have for their subjects.
Even more powerful than the tigers, however, is the story itself.
It has, dare I say this, an old-fashioned quality. Before special-effects
departments became the stars of movies, emphasis was placed on storytelling.
Occasionally, as in the case of this film, we see a moviemaker return
to the spinning of yarns. As moviegoers have been overdosed on computer
gimmickry, the old scenario has become new again.
Although Annaud wisely chooses to put his social commentary second
to the entertainment value, he does address contemporary issues such
as the conservation of nature and the preservation of culture within
his morality play. What's more, whether intentional or not, there
are striking similarities to several biblical parables about overcoming
evil and hatred. The filmmaker captivates with a strong narrative,
proving that a witty, well-told yarn is ultimately more satisfying
than attacking computer-generated Trojans or Harry Potter wand-pointing
wizardry. Annaud gives us an exciting action adventure for the whole
family, one with soul, charm and intrigue.
Note: Toward the beginning, we see two tigers copulating,
resulting in the birth of the film's central figures. But this sequence
is handled with discretion. Indeed, the production is careful not
to overwhelm or exploit. We see some violence, including the hunting
and shooting of tigers, a brief battle between the two brothers, and
the animals defending themselves against harsh humans, but gore and
excess have been carefully avoided. The film shows how cruel man can
be, but also gives examples of his ability to better himself. That
said, one scene needs to be pointed out. At one point, a brave boy
approaches a grown tiger that he raised. Parents should point out
that this is just a movie - not real life - and that children should
not approach wild animals.
Phil Boatwright is the editor of The Movie Reporter. For more
information, visit www.moviereporter.com.
Review used by permission.
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