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TWO BROTHERS
U.S. Release Date: June 25, 2004
Distributor: Universal
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Cast: Guy Pearce
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (for mild violence)

Kittens Without a Cause
by Scott Holleran

Two Brothers is more like a National Geographic special about Cambodia, where it takes place, than it is about a pair of tigers. As the tigers, from cubs to adults, are framed by the humans who train, tame and abuse them, Jean-Jacques Annaud's latest picture loses its bite.

Two Brothers gets bogged down by several subplots about people. One of them is played by Guy Pearce, an adventurer who discovers the cubs after stumbling across an old religious temple during an exploration. It's not clear whether he is a benevolent figure or another Hollywood stand-in for the environmentalist's worst nightmare: a man who seeks to use nature for his own ends. In any case, the cubs become separated.

By then, Annaud has missed the opportunity for a more substantial bond between his human lead and his cubbies, though a scene involving a cub rolling away from his habitat on a truck is suspenseful. Soon, it's back to Pearce and a den of thieves, royals, Oriental tribes, village con men, circus performers, a boy and an assortment of aristocrats. None of them is interesting.

As they grow, the tigers steal some scenes and an old circus tiger's tale is heartrending but brief. The plot meanders in a series of quasi-vignettes, and the tigers become less compelling once it's established that Annaud and the writers haven't much to say, which would be fine if they had much more to show. Instead, a plot that tries to have it both ways in terms of taming tigers is skimpy on the picturesódigital shots are dizzyingly distractingóand the sibling reunion is not particularly dramatic.

There are highlights as the tigers are held in captivity, including a boy's attempt to raise one of the beasts as a pet. Though Annaud elicits the requisite cute shots and keeps steady track of the duo, Two Brothers is lost in cultural lessons about Cambodia, homilies about conservation, tribal rites, village corruption and a French sensibility that is more bored than whimsical. Finally, Pearce's conquering man repents, which leaves the village from which his love interest hails vulnerable to chronic danger.

Because it is not conceptually coherent, Two Brothers is not appropriate for children, whose minds are left to fend for themselves in figuring out what's happening and why. Contradictions abound and the child will be lost in the plot's jungle.

What's missing from Two Brothers is clarity of purpose. Annaud seems torn between classic adventurism and a stream-of-consciousness that reveres that which is primitive. What is left is a caravan of half-formed characters with little focus on the whiskered ones.


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