In the early 20th century, two tiger cubs, are separated from each other and their parents during a hunt among temple ruins in the Thai jungle. The bolder one is sold off to a circus, the shy one becomes a beloved pet for the young son of the local governor, until the family finds it can no longer put up with him. His new owner wants to train him to be a fighting tiger in a lucrative sport. Fate reunites the two brothers as grown tigers, now known as Koumal and Sangha, but in a giant cage - as enemies in a blood sport.
Review by Louise Keller:
I love all cats - big and small, and it's worth seeing Two Brothers if only to enjoy the extraordinary interaction and stunning close ups of the magnificent tigers. These majestic creatures with their distinctive markings and personality-filled faces are amazing to watch, and every animal lover will leave the cinema wishing to have a tiger cub of his/her own. Jean-Jacques Annaud's story about two tiger cubs separated by circumstance and subjected to cruelty offers extraordinary footage, but as a film, the result is less than satisfying.
Watching the tigers in their natural habitat in the early scenes is magical, as the cubs play together joyously. But as the film progresses, Annaud seems more intent to stage-manage them. There's a cub sitting on a shelf among soft toys, a cub sleeping in bed with a child, a cub pulling the fully laden table cloth to the floor and causing mayhem around the house. These photo opportunistic scenes are at odds with the theme of animal cruelty, and Annaud's fable-like approach to telling the story is never believable. Twelve year old Freddie Highmore (who also impresses in Finding Neverland) is the only character I connected with, making me believe he truly loved the tiger. His performance rings with truth - from his authentic French accent to the very real tears that well in his eyes.
Guy Pearce plays the avaricious hunter McRory who first kills the cubs' parents before making an emotional connection with one of the orphaned cubs. I understood how he could be smitten by the adorable cub, but I wasn't so sure about the cub's attachment to McRory from one encounter when he gave him sweets. The two cubs are subjected to great cruelty: one is incarcerated in a sordid circus where his spirit is broken as he is forced to jump through flaming hoops, the other is imprisoned in a gloomy, caged dungeon as a palace pet. Even though the closing credits reassure us that the animals were not mistreated, some of the scenes are hard to watch. The tigers are rightly the stars of the film, but it's disappointing the characters do not gel and that some of the performances are stilted. Fake tiger tails and scenes that shatter our belief that the interaction between the characters and the animals is also distracting. The implied romance between McRory and his local guide does not ignite, nor does the sub plot of His Excellency, a shell of a man buried in the disapproving shadow of his dead father.
Two Brothers is an ambitious film, and Annaud's achievement in bringing indelible images of the tigers is considerable. I wish the rest of the film were as memorable.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The great achievement of Two Brothers is the quality of the acting - by the tigers. The humans fare much worse, with terrible fake accents and little direction, in a story that's not altogether marvellous. But at least Guy Pearce rises above the material and almost manages to create a character from nothing, as an adventurer/hunter who ends up mending his ways, thanks to the two tigers. And it's the tigers who are and should be the real stars: the level of performance elicited in this film is a team effort by tiger trainers and the filmmakers, and it is worth ignoring or forgiving the film's weak spots just to revel in the tigers' antics.
The tigers seem to communicate, and not only with each other, but with the audience. There is the fun of the cubs at play, adventures with strange jungle creatures they meet, and later their respective journeys that lead them back together, now as grown tigers. We believe they can think and feel, that they miss each other (and their parents) and when they recognise each other as adults, we can sense exactly what they must feel. Or so we are made to feel by the filmmakers.
The tigers are of course superb to watch, whether walking, chasing or just lying still. Their sounds and their behaviour remind us of the magnificence of wildlife of all kinds. Ignore the rest of it.
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TWO BROTHERS (PG)
CAST: Guy Pearce, Mai Anh Le, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Bernard Flavien
PRODUCER: Jean-Jacques Annaud, Jake Eberts
DIRECTOR: Jean-Jacques Annaud
SCRIPT: Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jean-Marie Dreujou
EDITOR: Noelle Boisson
MUSIC: Stephen Warbeck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Pierre Queffelean, Emma Pucci
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 25, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: March 2, 2005