If asked, I would say that I tend to see a lot of movies. My wife might argue that we don’t see nearly enough. Thus, someplace between the two answers is logically the truth of the matter. Interestingly, I rarely have much to say about movies, even about one I’ve just seen. Normally during our walk home, the best I can manage is to say that the movie was “Okay,” or list a number of reasons why it sucked and was a complete waste of film. “Cold Mountain” is a great example of what I’m talking about… the feeling that you’ve been cheated out of two hours of your life.
However, this evening we saw a film that blew my mind away. And, we watched it from the privacy and warmth of our home. I sat stunned from pretty much beginning to end of “Brother's Keeper.” This movie was released some 12 years ago, but I only recently ran across it on Netflix while searching for something in the neighborhood of “Crumb” and “American Splendor.” (Note: I'm NOT writing about the Jeanne Tripplehorn movie by the same title that was released in 2002. Please do not mistakenly rent that one!)
“Brother’s Keeper” is a documentary about the events surrounding, and personalities involved, in the trial of Delbert Ward, an aging New York dairy farmer, who was charged in the early 1990s with murdering his older brother William- supposedly in the bed they shared on the farm where they have lived with their stepbrothers Roscoe and Layman since the late 1930s (give or take a few years). To use the words “odd,” “eccentric,” “illiterate,” “unfortunate,” or “suspicious” to describe these fellas, would be like trying to hack your way through an Amazon rainforest using rusty toenail clippers!
Like I said, I sat without speech more or less for the entire movie, unable to look away except during two scenes. The first was during the second appearance of the medical examiner while offering his “expert” testimony as to William’s cause of death. I’m thinking, “Is this guy for real?” How on earth can this guy who would make for a completely unbelievable character even on “Six Feet Under,” be anything other than a fictional person discovered beaten, robbed, and left for dead in the middle of a Lou Reed song?
The other scene that disturbed me to no end, was the slaughtering of a hog. I think I understand WHY the filmmakers put that part in the movie, but I won’t go into my theory here and now as I wish to avoid biasing anyone who hasn’t seen this movie YET.
This movie is a fantastic medium to help you explore our justice system. It is also an anthropologist’s dream as the people watching is first rate!
When you rent this movie, I recommend you grab the 10th Anniversary Edition (1992) as it contains a bunch of extras, including footage of the first (and likely only) trip the Ward brothers made to Manhattan- and the original movie trailer that consists of an appearance by Spaulding Gray who undoubtedly saw a brief replay of the film recently after he leapt from a bridge. I must say, the shot of the brothers sitting in the shadows of the World Trade Center towers discussing whether or not they wanted to ride the elevator up to the observation deck is a jaw-dropping piece worthy of inclusion into any time capsule where the intent is to baffle future historians as to the reality of pre-9/11 America.
So forget about Shrek’s I or II, or the newest holiday film. Instead, rent “Brother’s Keeper” and settle back with a nice bottle of Wild Turkey and let the fun begin. I’m betting you will feel better about your station in life before the end credits begin rolling.