Two Brothers
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Jean-Jacques Annaud
scr Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud
with Guy Pearce, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Moussa Maaskri, Freddie Highmore, Oanh Nguyen, Vincent Scarito, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Mai Anh Le, Jaran Phetjareon, Stephanie Lagarde, Bernard Flavien, Nozha Khouadra
release US 25.Jun.04, UK 23.Jul.04
04/France-UK 1h59

Sibling rivalry: Koumal and Sangha meet again (above); Pearce with a younger Koumal (below).
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two brothers Annaud brings his high production values and painstaking style of filmmaking (Quest for Fire, The Name of the Rose) to this fascinating tale of two tigers separated as cubs and raised very differently. Yes, there's a strain of cheesiness in the entire idea, but Annaud maintains a strong narrative drive, creates vivid characters and includes enough context and subtext to make it somewhat provocative for older viewers.

In early 20th century Cambodia, British hunter-adventurer Aidan McRory (Pearce) is in the jungle to collect ancient statues when he befriends a lonely tiger cub (named Koumal), which is taken from him and sold to a circus. Meanwhile, the cub's twin brother (Sangha) is rescued by the son (Highmore) of the colonial governor (Dreyfus), but ends up in the menagerie of the local ruler (Nguyen). While Koumal's spirit is broken so he can be taught to do tricks, Sangha is turned into a fierce fighter for a big event a year later, when the two brothers finally meet again ... in a ring where they're expected to battle to the death.

The plot sounds like a Disney cartoon, but it's played out in a thoroughly natural way, with stunning camera work and astonishingly well-trained tigers! The film not only looks gorgeous, but the script digs into the local politics and customs, colonial tensions, the pressures of environmentalism and trade, cross-cultural friendships and even a touch of romance. The actors play it straight, clearly aware that the tigers are the stars (Koumal and Sangha get top billing). But they effectively bring us into the story, providing rounded characters who are each a bit nicer, meaner, more callous or more curious than the usual stereotypes.

The balance between human and tiger plots works well, although scenes in which the tigers seem to express emotional responses are a bit much--starting with the, erm, seduction/conception sequence that opens the film! And the tone does wander a bit from serious drama to intense action to goofy antics. But kids will love it, especially since it doesn't soften the story for them. And there's enough here to spark a grown-up mind as well.

cert U themes, violence 25.Apr.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... two brothers Hyacinth, Hollywood: 4/5 "agreed the human acting was goofy with the exception of guy pearce and the little french boy, and the story was somewhat predictable. But what was amazing and worth the price of admission is simply to gaze at the amazing shots of these fantastic creatures. rarely have i felt more or cried more in a film." (3.Jun.04)
2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall