Judge Steve Power only fights with his sisters.
Enemies will become allies, to deliver a message.
It's the closing days of World War II. The Russians have pushed their way into Berlin, while the Allies continue to clean up what's left of Hitler's Third Reich. A German captain, Mueller (Tino Struckmann, Redbelt), struggles to hold his line on the Polish border against overwhelming odds. Meanwhile, British Major Andrew (Hugh Daly, Prison Break) is hanging with the Russkies and finds out Stalin has much larger plans for Germany and Europe than the rest of the world realizes. When both men wind up imprisoned by the ruthless Russian Col. Petrov (Michael Berryman, The Hills Have Eyes) they inevitably break out and their uneasy alliance becomes a friendship. With a Polish nurse named Anna in tow, they work their way to the allied lines, baring witness to the absurdity of the conflict along the way.
The setup for Brother's War is not too bad. The screenplay is a pretty solid mix of the usual war clichés and some surprisingly effective moments on the Russian-ravaged Polish lines. The latter half of the film becomes an emotional journey, as we witness atrocity and futility from both sides of the fence. Director Jerry Buteyn (The Doers of Coming Deeds) is competent enough behind the camera, keeping things coherent while throwing just enough shaky cam in there to inform us that we are, in fact, watching a World War II film made after Saving Private Ryan. Unfortunately, beyond the earnest screenplay and solid direction, nothing else in Brother's War lives up to its potential. For starters, the film is obviously low budget fare, and while uniforms and weapons look authentic enough, a lot of the on-screen action is executed through basic CGI. Everything from muzzle flashes to bullet hits is added in post production, which makes the mounting of the larger scale fights look anything but authentic. It was more effective here than in Hearts of War, but when making a WWII flick, one would hope your first order of business would be an arms master and a stunt coordinator. I don't think this flick had either.
The lead actors are generally ineffectual, but do get stronger as the film goes on, while the Russians are universally horrible. Other supporting roles get the job done, but it all feels more like television than feature film. It says a lot for the strength of the screenplay that, while I may have spent the first 25 minutes bored by amateur performances and poorly mounted combat, the final act of Brother's War had me completely enthralled. No, it's not an amazing film (far from) and certainly doesn't reinvent the War genre, but it's an effective little tale that works best when the bullets aren't flying. I really could have done without the bookend pieces and the one head-shaking final twist that was a total eye-roll moment, but minor complaints aside, I really enjoyed this film. I see myself coming back to it in the future, in spite of its flaws and ultra low-budget pedigree.
The disc I viewed was a screener whose transfer was soft, pixilated, and full of noise, but the Dolby stereo track didn't sound too bad, actually. The only extra was a trailer. Final retail product consists of a 1.85 anamorphic transfer, 5.1 surround mix, two behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the aforementioned trailer.
While its reach exceeds its grasp and the film will never ever be mistaken for big budget Hollywood fare, Brother's War succeeds in being an entertaining effort. Not Guilty.
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