Brother's Keeper review by The Grim Ringler

At their hearts, documentaries intend to take you to a place and show you a world that is usually just on the edges of our peripheral vision but which is every bit as interesting and oft times scary as feature films. Some are more successful than others and for every great doc there are at least five mediocre ones. The strength in a good doc though comes from the story being told and the storytellers themselves, and with Brother’s Keeper, you hit the jackpot on both.

Brother’s Keeper tells the tale of Adelbert, a farmer living in absolute squalor on a farm with is four brothers. None of the men have had any formal education and none of them is seen by the townsfolk as anything other than ‘boys’, despite the fact that they are all in their sixties. The boys don’t bother anyone though and no one bothers them. They may be odd and grubby folks, but they keep to themselves and they don’t cause trouble. All that changes though when one of the brothers, the eldest, dies in his sleep. First ruled a death from natural causes, this is soon overturned and it is believed that Adelbert, who shared his brother’s bed, killed his ailing brother while he slept. As soon as the charges are filed and a court date is set though the very town that had treated the brothers as if they had been invisible unite behind Adelbert and do everything in their power to support their neighbor. And as the film progresses it becomes the town against the city as things in the courtroom heat up and allegations of rape and premeditated murder begin to surface in the prosecution’s case. But it’s Adelbert in the end who must face the jury and the consequences of what has happened, his face slack and indifferent, his eyes downcast as people he doesn’t even know decide whether he murdered his brother or not.

In essence this is portrayed as a sort of murder mystery and courtroom drama – did Adelbert do it? Will he be convicted? But what this film is really about is how completely alien some people can be to their very neighbors. Time and again these men, these three brothers, are referred to as ‘boys’ and are said, even in front of their faces, to be all but imbeciles. As much as people may want to help them, it’s because they want to fight against the city, not necessarily for the brothers. It’s Us against Them. And it isn’t just these men who are alien to the world outside of their farm but the world that is alien to them. At one point one of the brothers is on the stand and is shaking so badly with fear that the trial halts so he can get himself together again. It was interesting too to see how some of these ‘simple country people’ are more forward thinking than many of their city brethren. Such as the idea that if Adelbert did kill his brother, it was a mercy killing and nothing more. And when the idea is floated that Adelbert and is brother had been sexually involved, one man that seems like a true friend to the brothers, says hell, what does it matter ‘casue there are plenty of city-folk doing the same thing and they don’t bother them. And at the center of everything is Adelbert, a sweet natured, simple man who loved his brother perhaps enough to end his sick brother’s pain.

Beautifully shot and edited, the wonder of this film is that the filmmakers let the story tell itself and do their best to stay out of the way of the story. You even see that as the film progresses, the filmmakers are seen by Adelbert and his brothers as friends and nothing more. Watching this film is like seeing video from mars – an alien landscape that few of us will ever know or understand – but unlike mars, this is as real a place as our own bedrooms. It’s a sad, haunting film and a curious social study to see these men who live almost outside of society have to face a world hungry for their strangeness.

A wonderful documentary, sure, but an even more brilliant film. I would also highly recommend Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 by these same filmmakers, another even more haunting tail of judicial woes.


9 out of 10 Jackasses
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