Add to that a fine ensemble cast to bring us into it. The two brothers of the title are Michael (Ulrich Thomsen), a career military man who seems to excel at everything, and his no-good brother Jannik (Nikolai Lie Kaas, Reconstruction), for whom Michael is both a role model and an impossible standard to live up to. Jannik's love and respect for Michael, on the other hand, is intertwined with the rebelliousness that comes of this inadequacy. To make the point and to make the relationships clear, the film starts with Michael picking Jannik up when he's released from prison and suggesting, on the ride home, that he should apologize to the victim of his crime. Such propriety. Jannik's prison time wasn't adequate punishment for Michael's high standards.
As though Jannik's own feelings of inadequacy aren't enough, they're copiously amplified by their stiff-backed Danish father who sees no problem with praising Michael like a god and downgrading Jannik like a sewer rat -- at the dinner table. Mom stands by for a little amelioration. The loving one.
Michael's wife Sarah (Connie Nielsen), however, is the one to watch. As far as Jannik is concerned, she has an underlying distaste for his errant ways but doesn't show it. She's also a Danish beauty and a warm, faithful wife.
All of which is only the setup for what's about to happen. Michael is called up for another stint in the military and, after tearful goodbyes during which his two young daughters deal with his departure in their own, hurtful ways, he ships out to Afghanistan. There, on a mission to find a missing soldier, his helicopter is shot down, he's captured by a warlord, locked up with his quarry, and pronounced dead by military investigators.
He will be rescued, but not before the warlord faces him with an untenable choice that will turn him into someone even his daughters want nothing to do with. They now prefer the fun companionship of Uncle Jannik.
Kaas, with the kind of rough-hewn size and demeanor that would make you stare as you cross the street in order to avoid him, couldn't be more appropriate in the role of a careless slacker with a threatening edge. The fact that the all-perfect achiever of the family becomes the dangerous one is a good twist of character to color the story with the unexpected.
The core of emotion that the plot revolves around and fastens us to is Connie Nielsen, who should, by now, be a huge star in American film. After spiking Gladiator with insight and looks, breathing class into One Hour Photo, and intriguing us in Demonlover, you'd think she'd be on everyone's A-list. With her ability to nuance her characters with levels of complexity, her continued presence in supporting roles requiring smart beauty is, at least, assured.
Bier keeps us on our voyeuristic toes as the tensions increase, causing a certain feeling that we're being allowed to witness the private problems of a family going through a crisis of survival. The psychology of it is universal, touching civilized society beyond any one country's borders. It casts some edifying light into the effects of the battlefield on the "regular guys" we once knew. Despite a certain amount of dramatic exaggeration, if every film I see is as satisfying a complex human drama as this, I wouldn't have much to gripe about.
Box Office Worldwide: $62.2M
Production compaines: Pathe, Pathé Renn Productions, Two Brothers Productions, TF1 Films Production, Canal+
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Susanne Bier
Producer: Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Sisse Graum Olsen
Starring: Maï Anh Le as Naï-Rea, Guy Pearce as Aidan McRory, Freddie Highmore as Raoul, Oanh Nguyen as Seine Exzellenz, Jaran 'See Tao' Petcharoen as Dorfältester, Stéphanie Lagarde as Paulette, Jean-Claude Dreyfus as Eugène Normandin, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu as Mathilde Normandin, Vincent Scarito as Zerbino, Moussa Maaskri as Saladin, Freddie Highmore as Raoul Normandin, Bernard Flavien as His Excellency's Majordomo, Annop Varapanya as Sergent Van Tranh, David Gant as Auctioneer, Teerawat Mulvilai as Verlaine (as Teerawat Mulvilai 'Ka-Nge'), Somjin Chimwong as Napoleon (as Somjin Chimwong 'Nen')
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