Two Brothers

Call me cold-hearted, but I find it hard to invest in a movie that employs actors of the four-footed variety. No matter how cute or cuddly they may be, something inside me objects to sympathizing on screen with creatures that lack a verbal capacity. I understand, of course, that animals possess a primal nature, but I have yet to see a film that translates their visceral emotions into cinematic splendor.

Two Brothers is no different. The film, set in the late 1900s, tells the story of Sangha and Kumal, a pair of tiger brothers raised amid the ruins of a forgotten temple in a Southeast Asian jungle. Life is peaceful until an expedition of treasure hunters, led by British adventurer Aidan McRory (Memento’s Guy Pearce) descends upon the lush landscape. In an act of misplaced heroism, Aidan kills the reigning tiger and adopts his orphaned cub, Kumal. But a run-in with the law lands Aidan in jail and the tiger in a circus. Meanwhile, Kumal’s brother, Sangha, is snatched up by the regional governor (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) as a playmate for his young son, Raoul (Freddie Highmore). Sangha turns out to be a handful, though, and the family must sell him to the prince’s royal menagerie.

Over the year, the cubs grow to their full size. When their captors see their potential as fighters, they unknowingly pit two brothers against each other in a battle to the death. Or so they hope. ...

I have to admit I experienced a moment of apprehension before the tigers faced off, but every sappy scenario leading up to that point felt like a cheap shot. Of course, we’re supposed to feel bad when the tiger’s mother gets bucked off a truck as she gnaws at the box trapping one of her sons. And when she takes a bullet in the ear. But all this overt sentimentality left me feeling used.

Luckily, the scenes with human actors lessen the need for more swelling orchestrations. Dreyfus’ performance as the farcical regional governor brims with personality, and Pearce’s tactful restraint as the famous adventurer lends continuity to the story’s arc.

The cinematography is stunning as well. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud (who also directed Enemy at the Gates and Seven Years in Tibet) creates a whimsical fantasy world where history and imagination collide. A far-away feel permeates the storybook images, from the gorgeous overgrown jungle, to a circus tent aglow with firelight, to the prince’s sumptuous lair.

But be forewarned: While animal lovers might find a "heartwarming tale," anyone else might be less enthralled. My date suggested the Olsen twins replace those tiger brothers in the sequel.

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