Review of Brother (Original title: Hermano)

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Two young men who have been raised as brothers use their soccer skills in order to get out of their slum. However, while a scout is in town, an act of violence threatens to tear them apart.
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Movie Reviews: "Brother (Orig. Title Hermano)"

-- Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: July 2, 2010
Directed by: Marcel Rasquin
Genre: Drama/Sports

Football, or soccer as it is called in the United States, is a way to a better life for many talented young kids from underprivileged backgrounds across the world. This is very evident from the Venezuelan team playing at the beginning of "Brother."

The team represents La Ceniza, a slum on the outskirts of Caracas. Two brothers, Daniel (Fernando Moreno) and Julio (Eliu Armas) have so much raw talent on the field that a scout from a large team in Caracas comes to see them play. Daniel in particular is excited at the possibility of getting signed by a big team, because this means he will finally have money and be able to get out of the slums.

His older brother Julio is not so sure. He has been working as a gang enforcer for years to help support his family that includes mother Graciela (Marcela Giron). She works full time in a bakery, but it isn't enough to feed two growing boys. Julio doesn't seem bothered by the fact that part of the reason he has to do gang work is to help support Daniel, who is not his biological brother. Julio found him in a trash bin, thinking the sound was a cat. Graciela took him home and raised him as her own, and the two boys grew up together with a tight family bond.

They are very close despite the fact that their personalities and physiques are like night and day. Julio is tall and has an intimidating posture, making him the perfect gang enforcer. Meanwhile, the soft spoken Daniel is lanky but has explosive speed on the field, making the scout take notice of his abilities. Julio is slightly less excited about the team tryout, thinking that he should stay with his gang, where he is well-established and earns enough to help the family.

Then, tragedy strikes the brothers when Graciela is killed in a terrible accident. The hotheaded Julio wants revenge so bad he can taste it. The more pragmatic Daniel thinks this is all the more reason to escape the slums, because there is nothing left there for them without their mother. Unfortunately, Julio's bloodlust won't stop, and Daniel must hide the fact that he knows who is responsible for their mother's death. If he tells Julio who it is, he will surely murder the man and be sent to jail. Daniel believes he is helping his brother out by hiding this terrible secret from him, but he is really just sealing both their fates.

"Brother" could have easily gone the feel-good route of many sports movies and had an ending where everyone lives happily ever after. For awhile, you may think that is where the movie is headed, as writers Rohan Jones and Marcel Rasquin (who also directed the film) set up both brothers to be sympathetic characters with complex emotions and personalities. It isn't easy to make a gang enforcer out to be a hero, but Jones and Rasquin handle this task well in their script.

This film doesn't have a happy ending, which keeps it more realistic about the fate of most people who live in the hardboiled Venezuelan slums. What happens is so unpredictable and twisty that it really feels like a punch to the gut. By this time, you have invested plenty of emotion into both brothers, so the only good outcome would be for both to make the soccer team and leave La Ceniza. Daniel tries desperately to make that happen, telling the soccer club that he will only sign on if they sign Julio as well. It is a the only desperate card he has to play before his brother finds out who killed his mother and makes the mistake of a lifetime.

"Brother" delves deep into the meaning of family and true brotherhood, whether that brotherhood is through family blood or bloodshed, like the gang. It paints a poignant picture of a life where dreams can be shattered in an instant after one emotional mistake. Life isn't fair, but the life of these brothers and everyone else in La Ceniza seems more unfair than most.

It is hard to believe the film was helmed by a rookie director in Rasquin. He coaxes commanding performances from both his leads and artfully displays the squalor and desperation of the slums. If "Brother" is only his first attempt at directing, it will be exciting to see what Rasquin can bring to the table once he has some more experience under his moviemaking belt.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars