BROTHERS THREE: AN AMERICAN GOTHIC
Generally, it’s a huge red flag when a film makes its first visible appearance on DVD instead of a cinema run, but I am nothing if not a true fan. When I hold something (or someone) dear, there’s very little that will dissuade me from following it (him) to the very end. And so, after 7 years of my chasing an increasingly talented career, Neal McDonough has brought me to Brothers Three (originally titled American Gothic). Unfortunately, this movie, this experience, had shades of Michael Madsen written all over it.
Brothers Three begins like any self-respecting “indie film”, with convoluted scenes meant to evoke interest and perhaps emotional response, but not quite enough to give you any hint as to the content of the film. And thus, it begins slowly, then steps forward in very small increments, hoping that the viewer will not need any action or interesting dialogue to retain interest. At least 30 minutes of the film is mired in confusion — even the narrator/middle brother doesn’t know why he has been summoned to a rundown shack in the woods — and all of the dialogue features questions from one brother and cryptic answers (or no answers at all) from another. This may have been the most excruciating bit of cinema I’ve ever forced myself to endure. But endure I did, and all for the sake of the actors.
Neal McDonough and Patrick Wilson (another favorite of mine) play the eldest of the brothers three, and the evolution of their relationship is the only interesting aspect of the film. Were these characters played by less talented men, this film would have been doomed from the first ten minutes. But McDonough and Wilson succeed where few actors could, by inhabiting two estranged brothers who must come to terms with the legacy of their worthless father and try to understand how he has shaped their own individual lives by his actions toward them. At the beginning of the film, McDonough embodies a backwoods recluse whose inner turmoil and hopelessness are etched in every line of his haggard face. He is angry, he is indignant, and he has nothing but contempt for his younger brother. Yet, at the same time, he is overly protective and warm and supportive of their youngest brother. This small bit of sensitivity is a hint of the many, many layers that McDonough’s character will reveal, but it takes a great amount of time to reach that point in the film.
Patrick Wilson, on the other hand, enters the picture wearing a fine suit and wondering just what he’s gotten himself into. He is stark contrast to the rustic surroundings he enters, and he makes several attempts to simply walk away without understanding why his brothers have called him there. As the story reveals itself, Wilson presents an equally fascinating evolution to this middle brother, and by the end he has actually devolved into a very similar state to that of McDonough’s character. While McDonough’s transformation is gradual and fairly undetectable in many ways, Wilson plays his character on the outside. Every change is visible in his clothing, his face, his actions, his words. Watching these two actors work this dance is what brings the film to life. There are surprises in the story, but the pace is very slow to arrive at these points. Instead, the beauty of the story lies in the relationship of the brothers.
Brothers Three is a true character drama, deftly handled by two of today’s best character actors, and it requires a lot of patience and a great respect for the players. As the story finally reached its conclusion, I was satisfied and once again amazed at the wealth of talent within Neal McDonough. He managed to take a slovenly, obnoxious, despicable character and turn him into the heart of the film. Which is exactly why he will never become Michael Madsen, no matter how many of his films head straight to disc.
image from gatechic’s journal