For his first English film, writer/director Takeshi Kitano (who, when acting, goes by the moniker of 'Beat') sticks with the same formula that makes him so popular in Japan. He always plays a quiet man, prone to random acts of intense violence. Brother takes this character and moves him to the United States. Kitano (Kikujiro, Taboo) models his movie after his character, with short bursts of violence punctuating slower, almost meditative moments. The pacing is odd and slightly off-kilter, and never quite works. Brother starts off well, but a promising beginning slowly fades into a surprisingly dull gang war.

Kitano is Yamamoto, a disgraced Yakuza who exiles himself to America. He is going to see his brother Ken (Claude Maki, Scarred Angels, The Goofball), a low level drug dealer in Los Angeles. Yamamoto's mob instincts take control and he quickly eliminates Ken's competition and sets himself up as the boss of a new crime family. His mentality is all about war. Yamamoto is willing to sacrifice himself to succeed in his goals, in this case, control of drug distribution. He ruthlessly moves up the chain of local dealers while remaining unnervingly calm.

At the same time, he is bonding with Denny (Omar Epps, Dracula 2000, Love and Basketball), one of Ken's friends. Yamamoto and Denny share a love for gambling and Yamamoto respects the way Denny treats his own family. Denny becomes a sort of surrogate son for Yamamoto. However, the danger increases exponentially as their territory expands. Brother has many garishly violent moments, and most of them occur at the beginning. Viewers never get the chance to wonder how Kitano will top himself, because he never does. All of the excitement happens initially.

Takeshi's performance is amusing as always. He just sits there looking completely harmless until a switch goes off in his head and he explodes. He brings a Yakuza mentality to the gangs of Los Angeles, quickly organizing his own and setting out to crush others. He confounds everybody, including Denny and Ken, who often stand there wondering what the heck he is doing. Takeshi fails when he tries to throw in minor moralizing about the futility of violence. It's a hard message to believe in light of what he showed on screen earlier. Overall, Brother is a confusing movie, not because it is hard to understand, but because it really isn't about anything.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 42 minutes, English and Japanses with English subtitles, Rated R for pervasive strong violence, language and brief nudity.

Back to Movies