THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


In the late 80ís, director Jean-Jacques Annaud made a film called The Bear that was widely acclaimed. It was quite a remarkable film Ė one that starred a real bear and had very little dialogue. The whole picture showed the titular creature fighting for survival in his natural environment. Part of what made it so fascinating was that it looked like a documentary, but in fact the bear was an actor and the movie was carefully scripted. Anyone who saw The Bear probably remembers its authenticity. I sure do, which is why I was looking forward to seeing Two Brothers, Annaudís latest effort, this one focusing on tigers. This new film is not nearly in the same league, though.

The central characters are two baby tigers Ė Kumal and Sangha Ė who are separated from their mother and each other. They individually get captured by Aidan McRory (Guy Pierce) a former ivory hunter who now pillages ancient ruins. He in turn gives Sangha to the son of a French administrator, who raises it like a pet. Kumal, meanwhile, is sold to the circus, where heís trained to jump through hoops of fire and play the role of a ďman-eater.Ē The tigers grow up in separate places, and as adults they find themselves placed head-to-head in a death match for the amusement of spectators.

The appeal of Two Brothers - or at least whatever appeal it has Ė comes from looking at the tigers. Any animal lover will certainly delight in watching the creatures. For the movie, they have been especially well trained (although animatronic and CGI tigers were used for some of the more dangerous moments). Kumal and Sangha have to do a lot of things here which Iím sure are not de rigeur for tigers, such as jumping onto moving trucks and crawling onto shelves. As one who has immense fondness and respect for animals, I really enjoyed watching them do their thing.

Nothing else in the movie works. All the human characters are boring, and at times itís hard to tell who some of them are. We are just barely introduced to any of the people, so they seem extraneous to the story. This eventually becomes annoying because we realize the hearts of the filmmakers do not rest with the characters, yet we keep coming back to them. A better idea would have been to scrap them altogether. The Bear didnít have an excessive number of humans coming in to detract from the movieís real focus; it simply let us watch the bear. Two Brothers spends too much time on things these dull characters, which makes it certain to bore the family audience at which it is aimed.

Perhaps I could have recommended Two Brothers were that the only problem. There is an even greater one, though. I was put off by the way the movie anthropomorphizes the tigers. Kumal and Sangha seem to have human emotions. They also seem to understand everything the human characters say and do. You can do this sort of thing in a film so long as you firmly establish a tone of fantasy. More often than not, this involves hiring an actor to vocalize the animals thoughts (as in, say, the Homeward Bound movies, or any similar Disney production). However, you cannot do it when you have every other pretense of making a serious study of animal behavior. Nothing else in Two Brothers has even a hint of fantasy. It is filmed in an almost documentary-like style, and it has an atmosphere of realism in its animal-rights message. Therefore, it seems woefully out of place when the animals seem to read the minds of humans and act accordingly.

Hereís one example: Sangha and his boy owner play hide and seek in the bedroom. The tiger climbs up onto a shelf and blends in with the kidís stuffed animals so he canít be found. Would a real tiger have that kind of intelligence? Would it even know what a stuffed animal was? The scene comes off as too cutesy, too forced. I would have preferred a movie that simply showed us the tigers dealing with the various threats they face.

That is, after all, Jean-Jacques Annaudís point. Two Brothers ends with statistics showing how the number of living tigers has decreased to alarming proportions. Rather than being allowed to exist in the wild, they are hunted, adopted as pets, or trained to perform in circuses (and movies). I think thereís a wonderful picture to be made about tigers Ė one that would make the audience care about the animals while still remaining faithful to their daily reality. Two Brothers is not that film.

( out of four)

Two Brothers is rated PG for mild violence. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.

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