Second chances and emotional rebirth figure prominently in Brothers, the emotionally raw new film from Susanne Bier (Open Hearts, Once in a Lifetime). Bier, who co-wrote the story with Anders Thomas Jensen (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Open Hearts) has Dogma experience, which surely helped in getting the actors to perform on a visceral level. It also helps that her three leads, Connie Nielsen, Ulrich Thomsen, and Nickolaj Lie Kaas all give strong performances. It is especially interesting watching Nielsen (Basic, The Hunted), as this is her first Danish film. Nielsen was born and raised in Denmark, but thus far has made films in America.

She plays Sarah, who is married to Michael (Thomsen, Kingdom of Heaven, The Inheritance). Michael's brother Jannik (Kaas, Reconstruction, The Green Butchers) is fresh out of jail after a multiyear stint for robbery and a violent assault. The two brothers are a study in contrasts. Michael is in the military. He is happily married with two young daughters, and has the respect of his parents. Jannik is a lazy drunk, bitter with life and prone to lashing out at those around him. Jannik also resents Michael's lecturing. Very quickly, Michael is deployed to Afghanistan, where his helicopter was shot down and he is presumed dead. Life for Sarah, and Jannik changes quickly after that.

For Jannik, it opens his eyes to how precious life can be. He realizes how much time he was wasting, and decides to begin helping Sarah, first by finishing the kitchen that Michael was remodeling. It's fascinating watching how the Jannik character changes over the course of the film only because he comes off as such a jerk when the film begins, and because he and Sarah do not get along. A natural attraction develops between Jannik and Sarah, and the find themselves ashamed and confused. Meanwhile, half a world away, Michael is alive, and a prisoner in a war camp. His captors mercilessly toy with his emotions, trying to see how far he is willing to go in order to survive.

Brothers is like a Dogma-hybrid. Some of the elements are there, but the Bier strays from its strictest rules. She does keep the focus squarely on the character, with few extraneous plot lines or characters. This allows her to really reach into the heart of each person and see what drives them, and Nielsen, Thomsen, and Kaas respond in kind. Watching them is riveting. There is a minimal use of music, and the camerawork is frequently close in, causing an intimate feeling, like the viewer is right next to the cast. Everything about the script and acting feels real. This is how real people would respond to tragedy. There are no pat easy answers, they just have to take things one day at a time.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 50 minutes, Danish with English subtitles, Rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity.

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