Sons of Caribbean immigrants, Francis and Michael face questions of masculinity, identity and family amid the pulsing beat of Toronto's early hip-hop scene.



Brother movie review (2023)

Numerous films that explore narratives centered around Black experiences tend to emphasize their struggles, often reducing the characters to mere representations of trauma and suffering. In contrast, more impactful and successful films focus on how these characters interact with their surroundings, granting them agency and individuality instead of reducing them to symbolic embodiments of the broader Black experience. This nuanced distinction is exemplified by Clement Virgo’s poignant film, “Brother.”

The film opens with brothers Francis (Aaron Pierre) and Michael (Lamar Johnson) scaling electrical towers, with Francis leading the way and instructing Michael to follow his steps. This scene serves as a metaphor for their lives as the narrative weaves together three timelines: their childhood, high school years, and young adulthood.

Raised by a single Caribbean immigrant mother in Scarborough, Canada, Francis and Michael exhibit striking differences. Francis exudes confidence, possessing a commanding presence and leadership qualities. In contrast, Michael is reserved and unassuming, navigating a hostile environment as a small figure. As their lives progress, the film delves into questions of masculinity and resilience against the backdrop of an anti-Black world.

The chemistry between Pierre and Johnson is pivotal to the film’s success, portraying convincing brotherly dynamics both through their performances and the script’s intricate portrayal of their symbiotic relationship. One’s apprehension triggers the other’s vigilance, and their contrasting qualities influence each other’s actions. Pierre’s portrayal of Francis, alternating between unyielding strength and vulnerable tenderness, resonates powerfully. His facade never feels forced, and his emotional moments are delivered with heartfelt empathy.

Conversely, Johnson’s portrayal of Michael is marked by transparency and emotional openness. While Michael may not seek attention, his sincerity and authenticity make him endearing. Rather than depicting him as a victim, the film portrays him as reliant on others. As we follow his journey through three stages of life, Michael’s gradual assertion of authority becomes apparent following Francis’ departure, a revelation that unfolds in the final act. Michael serves as the film’s emotional core, counterbalancing Francis’ stoicism with emotional depth.

Against the backdrop of increasing gang violence in their neighborhood, Francis withdraws, leaving a significant void. The brothers mature during the 1990s hip-hop renaissance, with Michael aspiring to be an emcee like Dr. Dre. However, as he distances himself from the family unit, their household is left in upheaval. Their mother, Ruth (Marsha Stephanie Blake), is a complex character characterized by a blend of strictness and affection. Her evolving relationship with Michael and her own development contribute to the film’s emotional resonance after Francis’ departure.

Enhancing the emotional narrative, Todor Kobakov’s captivating score complements the stunning visuals. The music accompanies contemplative moments, grounding the film’s themes, while the interplay of warm and cool color palettes adds visual depth. “Brother” masterfully captures every emotional nuance through its filmmaking elements, ensuring an immersive experience. As Michael grapples with masculinity and resilience in the face of daunting challenges, the film explores the unwavering spirit and enduring familial love. “Brother” is a poignant depiction of Black youth confronting formidable external forces.

“Brother” is now screening in theaters.

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Country: USA

Genre: ,

Director: Clement Virgo

Writter: Clement Virgo, David Chariandy

Actors: Lamar Johnson, Aaron Pierre, Marsha Stephanie Blake

Duration: 1h 59m