BROTHER: 3 ½ STARS. “emotionally arresting, both thoughtful and tangible.”
In “Brother,” a new coming of age story from “The Wire” director Clement Virgo, now playing in theatres, weaves three timelines together to form a vivid portrait of memory, regret and grief.
Based on the novel of the same name by David Chariandy, and adapted by Virgo, “Brother” is the story of Francis (Aaron Pierre) and younger sibling Michael (Lamar Johnson), the sons of Jamaican immigrants, growing up in Scarborough, Ontario. The athletic Francis, who harbors dreams of becoming a music producer, exudes confidence. He is Michael’s surrogate father and, despite quitting school mid-term, is his role model and guardian angel.
But even with Francis on his side, Michael is overwhelmed by police overreach and the gang violence gripping the neighborhood. Random shootings are a regular event and once, a stray bullet even pierces the wall of a nearby apartment, killing an innocent child.
On their way to adulthood, the brothers are bonded by family, but choose different paths.
The parallel stories of “Brother,” told on a broken timeline, are skillfully handled by Virgo. He
interlaces the various timeframes to create a vivid portrait of the lives of these two young men and the pressures that formed and informed their personalities.
As adults the two lead characters are brought to vivid life by British actor Aaron Pierre, who reveals real vulnerability as the formidable Francis, and Lamar Johnson as younger brother Michael, who struggles to live in the long shadow cast by his older brother.
It is the story of their struggle to live up to expectations, but more importantly, it is about the toll of the struggle. Disappointment hangs over Francis’s character, and as he becomes more and more unpredictable, Pierre skillfully displays the ways that his risk taking is the symptom of dashed dreams and it is heartbreaking.
Virgo’s supple, elegant filmmaking reinforces the film’s central themes by creating a richly textured world for the characters to inhabit. The streets that represent a looming danger to Michael are beautifully shot, at once suburban stark and yet poetic. It is that juxtaposition that gives “Brother” its layered, complex thematic feel.
“Brother” features fine performances, a killer soundtrack that ranges from Nina Simone singing Jaques Brel to reggae to hip hop, and combines them to tell an emotionally arresting story that is both thoughtful and tangible.