Is it only a game?
Lucinda Pond is a disgraced cop living out of a remote Oregon fishing shack, with a bottle to escape the torment of her past and the pain of her only on-duty mistake. Seems an innocent man was accidentally shot to death during a raid she was leading. The target of the SWAT team, a notorious child molester, escaped and has never been apprehended. Worse, Internal Affairs blames the entire situation on possible mental problems (she suffered a hellacious childhood) and she has been placed on psychological leave. And just when it seems her life can't get any more troubled, her intelligent, erratic brother escapes from jail and begins an uncharacteristic killing spree, planting bizarre clues along the way. It's not long before the police realize that Lucinda is the only one who can decipher her brother Ellis' elaborate riddles and quirky messages. But once she is back on the force, old issues return to haunt her, like the raid mistake, and the horrible abuse she and her sibling faced at the hands of their heinous father. Every step along the way to solving the crimes leads deeper and deeper into just what happened on that fateful day in Lucinda's past, and the part that Ellis may have played in it.
While it's not going to win any awards for cleverness or artistic merit, Brother's Keeper is a fine little thriller that features excellent performances, first rate direction (by Hollywood veteran John Badham) and some original plot twists and turns. Basically a story about how child abuse affects the life of the lawful and the lawless, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Corin Nemic make an excellent pair of opposing forces, each an indictment against parental cruelty. Tripplehorn's Lucinda is so straight laced and by the book that a minor flaw in her record has sent her over the edge, into paranoia, isolation, and alcoholism. Nemic's Ellis, on the other hand, is a genius, a manipulator and a dangerously unbalanced victim who uses murder and misdirection as empowerment, showing long dead daddy that he no longer controls the boy he so viciously beat. The one good thing about the abuse sequences (if there can be a good thing in any scene of child endangerment) is that we are spared the physical, for the most part, to focus on the horrendous emotional and mental anguish that occurs. One can't help but grimace when father punishes the siblings by dropping them off, alone and cold in the woods, forcing them to find their own way home. Credit goes to Badham for not letting these sections of the film overstay their importance. Points also go to screenwriters Steve Baigelman and Glenn Gers for crafting an original why-done-it. The who and the what are not as important as what each of Ellis' actions lead to, and the reason for all the prolonged misery in he and his sister's life. Usually a made for USA cable offering is so cheesy and over the top that it's like a layer of Parmesan on your linguini, but Brother's Keeper succeeds by understanding that the internal drama facing each of the characters will sell the external dramatic elements in the narrative all the better.
Perhaps its television roots are the reason why New Line treats this disc like a bastard stepchild and handles it as badly as the FBI handles the case in the film. If you looked up a definition of "bare bones" in the dictionary, well, you'd find Paramount's logo on the page. But if you looked in the footnotes, you'd find Brother's Keeper. New Line is usually more respectful of DVD product, so this package is truly a disappointment. We get no trailer, no interviews, no cast or crew filmographies, and not even a hint at what this film was or sold as. We don't even get a decent anamorphic widescreen image. It's a full screen fiesta, but since there is nothing else on the disc, the surprising number of compression defects is uncalled for. We also get a decent and channel hopping Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround soundtrack. The impression of motion and character interacting is very good. But again, there is nothing else here, so why not add a commentary, or some manner of audio option for those without fancy surround capabilities? It seems obvious that the reason Brother's Keeper is treated so shabbily is because of its made-for-cable grade X movie marquee heritage. But New Line only makes matters worse by selling short a title that, while not a classic, offers some interesting changes and focus, and a entertaining take on the serial killer thriller.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
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