For those lovers of cats big and small, Two Brothers is a thoroughly endearing, heart-tugging and beautiful film about two tiger siblings torn apart as cubs and raised in very different human environments, only to be reunited later as forced enemies, pitted against each other. Here, kitty, kitty .
At the turn of the 20th century, we meet a tiger family living peacefully in the jungle ruins of an ancient Southeast Asian temple. The two male cubs--Kumal and Sangha (their given ''human'' names, as we come to find out)--are tight as two brothers can be, with Kumal being the more brave and adventurous of the two while Sangha remains the shyer, more sensitive one. Their happy existence comes to a screeching halt, however, when a British hunter Aidan McRory (Guy Pierce) invades their world in search of sacred temple artifacts and inadvertently separates the two tiger cubs. Kumal is eventually sold off to a circus, where captivity robs him of his spirit. Sangha, on the other hand, finds brief happiness as the beloved pet of a governor's lonely young son, Raoul (Freddie Highmore), until an accident forces the family to give him away to a spoiled prince, whose animal trainers turn Sangha into a fierce fighter for sport. A year later, the full-grown brothers are finally reunited in a ring where they are forced to do battle, for the enjoyment of bloodthirsty patrons--but the tigers end up recognizing each other instead and renewing their long-lost kinship. Together, Kumal and Sangha escape their confines and head out to rediscover their roots in the jungle--that is, if the big, bad white men will let them.
Two Brothers focuses all its attention on the tigers, leaving the human actors to serve only in perfunctory roles, but Pierce stands out the most as the kindly McRory. The actor infuses the skilled hunter with a realistic outlook; he kills what he considers a dangerous man-eater. Yet, by bonding with Kumal, McRory eventually becomes the tiger's friend rather than its foe--and it's very gratifying to see him gain respect and admiration for the animals, thus laying down his arms. Young Highmore (who will play Charlie Bucket in the upcoming Tim Burton remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) also adds a nice touch as Raoul, whose innocence and pure love for Sangha teaches the adults around him a thing or two about caring for wildlife. But of course, in a film of this nature, mankind will ultimately be the bad guy; there's no way around it. And Two Brothers is chock-full of them--ignorant, greedy and mean-spirited as they are.
''This movie is a combination of three of my greatest passions: the animal world, a love of monasteries and temples, and my fascination with the European colonial period. It was a world that irritated and fascinated, but its buffoonery and quirky characters also amused me,'' explains Two Brothers filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud. As the critically acclaimed director of the 1989 The Bear, Annaud knows what he is talking about, having done the almost impossible again with Two Brothers--a compelling, heartwarming film in which beautiful, wild, potentially dangerous and very real tigers are the main stars. How does he do it, you may ask? Apparently, he surrounds himself with the best animal trainers in the world, including head trainer Thierry Le Portier. Annaud and Le Portier use about 30 different tigers in all, each with their own unique personalities and specialties (i.e. some are better for the maternal scenes; others for the stunts). As well, Annaud employs High Definition digital, rather than just 35mm cameras (an upgrade since The Bear), which allows longer, uninterrupted takes with the tigers. The end effect is mesmerizing as it puts you right there with the gorgeous animals. Some animatronic tigers are used, but only in cases where the animals may have been in danger, especially in one scene where the brother tigers escape a jungle fire. Of course, there really isn't a story, per se, only vignettes in which you sort of gear yourself up for something bad to happen; that somehow the evils of mankind will prevail--and while Two Brothers still chokes you up, it's more out of relief and happiness when everything turns out right.
Director Jean-Jacques Annaud has done it again--a film that delights, saddens, gives hope and fully captures the spirit of the majestic tiger.