Originally written for The Milpitas Post
Directed by: Jean-Jaques Annaud
Starring: Guy Pearce, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Freddie Highmore, Oanh Nguyen, Vincent Scarito
Rated: PG for mild violence.
Parental Notes: Although young children (and animal lovers) may find some scenes too heart wrenching to watch, this is a good film for anyone who enjoys tigers and doesn’t mind putting up with a badly-constructed plot.
“Two Brothers” is a simple film with a simple purpose: to show us how badly tigers fare when they interact with humans. Although the tigers are a joy to watch, the humans in the film are woefully stereotyped and the plotline is melodramatic in the extreme. This is a movie for people who love watching tigers and are able to ignore the film’s large failings in all other areas.
The story follows the lives of two tiger cubs, Kumal and Sangha, who are born near a crumbling temple in Southeast Asia. When temple looter and hunter Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce) comes through the area, his path crosses the cubs’, with disastrous results. Kumal is sold to a circus, while Sangha winds up as the companion of the local French governor’s son, Raoul (Freddie Highmore). The two cubs go through a great deal while growing up and finally meet again as enemies in a ceremonial combat ring.
When they escape and McRory is hired to hunt them down, he faces a crisis of conscience. On the one hand, his interference resulted in the cubs being raised by humans, where they couldn’t learn to hunt. They’ll be helpless in the jungle. But at the same time, McRory has befriended little Raoul and they both know the tigers are sweet creatures who wouldn’t harm a hair on a human’s head except in self-defense. McRory has to decide whether to let the pair go and hope they can figure hunting out on their own or kill them as his professional hunter’s instinct tells him to.
The plot is melodramatic to the point of being asinine. The humans, with the possible exception of McRory, are one-dimensional and frequently stupid in the extreme. The audience must suspend disbelief to a phenomenal degree for the film to work, and even then it seems silly. The acting and dialog are frequently cartoonish and play on the emotions without delivering much substance.
The one performance that stands out is Pearce as McRory. The hunter actually changes over the course of the film, so Pearce is given something to work with, but the real sign of his ability is how at ease he appears on screen. Whether he’s hunting, putting up with his employers, or fooling around with a tiger cub, Pearce always seems relaxed in the part. Rather than overacting or winking at the camera, he simply plays the part.
Added to Pearce’s acting, the tigers more than make up for the film’s other weaknesses. They are beautiful creatures, and director Jean-Jaques Annaud (“The Bear”) manages to get the perfect facial expressions for each moment. Nearly all of the humor of the film comes from the animals’ antics, and as improbable as much of the events are, they’re still a lot of fun. It’s impossible for anyone who loves tigers to keep from gasping at the sheer beauty of many of the film’s visuals.
That said, animal lovers may find it difficult to watch a film which includes a tiger being beaten into submission, tigers being shot, and at times a general air of cruelty towards animals. Fortunately, the point of the film, that humans have a responsibility to protect tigers, and the happy ending should make it worthwhile.