My review of “Brotherhood” at 2010 SXSW Film Festival
Will Canon's debut feature Brotherhood opens in a van filled with four fraternity brothers: Adam (Trevor Morgan), Frank (Jon Foster), Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Curtis (Tyler Corie). The boys are hiding behind a convenience store, faces barely lit. All we see are floating heads within the shadows of the vehicle's interior. Guns exchange hands, orders are barked, and an initiation ritual unfolds. It's clear that something is about to go horribly wrong, and the consequences will reverberate until the film's closing credits. In between, the viewer is taken on a breathless, nonstop thrill ride that fires on all cylinders. Think Altman on speed.
Co-written by Will Canon and Doug Simon, Brotherhood asks a lot of its audience and delivers largely due to masterful casting. The strength and credibility of the story rests on the shoulders of the young leads, including some of America's greatest indie actors brought together in cinematic synergy.
Jon Foster's Frank is the intellectually manic group leader, never quite in control but desperately trying to be. His powerful presence is intimidating and dominates every scene he's in. Lou Taylor Pucci is caught in the middle. Frightened and quivering, even abandoned at times by those who claim to be acting in his best interest, his Kevin is arguably the epitome of innocence and easily wins the heart of the viewer. And as the unwitting Adam, Trevor Morgan is the glue that holds the brothers together. This talented actor's wide range of emotions on display in Brotherhood is nothing short of astonishing. Then there's Arlen Escarpeta as Mike, unwittingly dragged into the brothers' downward spiraling scheme in a heartwrenching performance. There's a part of Frank, Kevin, Adam, and Mike in everyone -- sometimes scared, often confused, and ultimately alone in a crowd. Not one of them has a clue how to get out of the hole they're digging for themselves, but none will admit defeat and all will question the value of loyalty. Sympathies are torn, and it is left to the viewer to decide who are the villains and heroes.
The film's visceral visual style owes much to the veteran cinematographer Michael Fimognari, whose widescreen photography relies on a constantly moving handheld camera. His probing lens is always in the midst of the action, personally involving the viewer more as a participant than an observer. The broken-down house in Arlington, Texas that is inhabited by the fraternity is real, as was the ever-present sweat on the brothers' faces. No spray bottles were needed on this production. One can almost feel the dank, steamy air and the creaking floors reeking of stale beer. But make no mistake -- this is not Animal House. There's little to laugh at here beyond the occasional ice-breaking gallows humor. The mood is always tense and frighteningly authentic.
Canon's team works in lockstep to serve that end. The use of natural lighting and often harsh color palette gives Brotherhood a true indie look and feel. Dan Marocco's high energy score infuses the movie with a mix of heavy metal and rap which, along with Josh Schaeffer's sharp, rapid fire editing, gives the film a music video sensibility that beats with the rhythm of the testosterone-fueled action at the heart of the story.
Brotherhood is ultimately about the price we pay when the consequences of our actions are borne by others. The power of male bonding in an atmosphere where group sociology overpowers the individual's intellectual capacity to problem solve results in a domino effect that dooms all who enter. Independent filmmaking is the last bastion of emotional and thought-provoking moving images, and Brotherhood is about as good as it gets.
For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com
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