There’s a scene in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Two Brothers that exemplifies how wrong-headed this movie truly is. A French mother is reading her quietly snoozing son a passage from a book about a famous hunter and his exploits in the African jungle. At one point, she mentions a "tradition" that involves removing the heart from a dead tiger. (Good thing he’s out cold.) Meanwhile, in bed with the young lad is a sleeping baby Bengal. In an earlier scene, he’s about to get killed by a villager when either his mother or father (I don’t know which) jumps to his defence and knocks over the gun-toting assailant. That’s when that same famous hunter (Aussie actor Guy Pearce trying out his James Bond accent) takes care of the bigger beast. He discovers the cub close to the body of its elder and takes it with him. That same cub is given to the young son (the one well away in dreamland) of a French administrator and the minute that gift is accepted you question the judgment and rearing skills of that kid’s dopey parents.
That bedtime sequence reminded me of Buddy, that godawful movie about a crazy rich broad who thinks gorillas make great domesticated slaves. Anyone in their right mind would want to steer clear of any kind of wild animal, regardless of its size, because inevitably its instincts will take over and it will cease being your pet.
This is one of the most beautiful-looking bad movies I’ve seen lately. Every scene is lovingly photographed by Jean-Marie Dreujou and I found it so easy to get lost in the incredible, lush scenery. It’s a damn shame I found the story absolutely depressing and dull.
I didn’t know quite how to react to the Guy Pearce character. Is he a hero? A reformed villain? The movie seems unsure of him and as a result, so do we. We see him early on during an auction where the crowd refuses to make a single bid on a pair of valuable (and gynormous) ivory elephant tusks which are promptly removed from the sale. They do, however, go nutso for these rare Buddhist statues that Pearce and his overly eager band of helpful villagers (is there any other kind?) seem to find all over the place. (How valuable can they be if there are so many of them to excavate?)
After he kills the mother (or father) of those two adorable tiger cubs (one of which he scoops up for his trip back to the village), we find out that these tigers can’t resist the livestock of the local citizens which is why Pearce is hired to kill them. He offers the dead tiger to them but they misunderstand and think he’s throwing in the cub as part of a 2-for-1 deal. After he’s betrayed by the village chief (who’s been corrupted by capitalism) he’s spared much time in jail (for his illegal statue excursions) after the local administrator (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) befriends him and tries to sell him on his "scheme" as he calls it. The administrator wants to stop the removal of those valuable Buddhist statues and instead build some kind of tourist attraction around them. He sells his idea to His Excellency (Oanh Nguyen), a would-be hunter who is nowhere close to being the great marksman that his deceased father was. (In one scene, he thinks he’s killed the other parent of those cubs but he merely puts a hole in its ear. It quickly flees the scene after an embarrassing attempt to have his photo taken with "the carcass".) In a later scene, he bemoans his underwhelming abilities to one of the brother tigers.
At some point, the two brothers get separated. One unwittingly becomes a circus attraction learning the deadly art of jumping through hoops of fire, a skill that comes in handy late in the film. The other briefly stays with the village, then becomes the beloved pet of the Administrator’s son and finally is given to His Excellency who wants to stage some kind of tiger fight for some ridiculous festival he wants to put on to preserve one of his father’s "traditions".
Two Brothers starts off so interestingly with no dialogue and about 10-15 minutes of entertaining footage showing this tiger family in action. (There’s an amusing scene where one of the cubs is scared up a tree by an animal it should not be afraid of.) After Pearce and company show up to kill one of the adult tigers, the movie very quickly changes tone and becomes a slow-moving, dour snoozefest. We’re not interested in the human characters, we only care about the tigers but the movie seems disinterested in all its participants. But it is in love with its surroundings, easily the best aspect of this disappointing film.
What is the message of this movie, I wonder? You can kill adult tigers that harm your food supply but you have to treat the cubs gingerly and with care? Circuses and tiger fights are evil? Trust no one who’s out to make a buck? I haven’t a clue and I’m not about to rescreen this mess to look for something I might’ve missed. The movie ends with an interesting factoid. About 100 years ago there were 100,000 tigers alive in the world. Now? Try less than 5000. Right there you have a better premise for a movie.