Directed by #LouisMaxwell
Film review by Nathanial Eker-Male
Student director Louis Maxwell delivers a compelling short film, made all the more impressive as the production was made on a shoestring budget. Brother presents a heartbreaking look at the difficulties of familial relationships and the tough decisions and personal sacrifices that have to be made because of them. Though the film doesn't give its core relationship quite enough time to breathe, competent direction and earnest performances culminate in a short that is as emotionally effective as it is well-made.
Alex (Gilna) and Shane (Hudson) are brothers with a strained relationship. After a troubled history with their parents, Alex hasn't seen his brother for five years and has been living in America. The two are only reunited at their Mother's funeral, where bubbling tensions boil over.
The heart and soul of Brother is the relationship between Alex and Shane. Had the performances been stilted or unbelievable, the integrity and verisimilitude of the film would've been shattered. Fortunately, the combination of Maxwell's tight direction and Hudson and Gilna's naturalistic performances craft true pathos when the intricacies of their shared history are revealed. Hudson, in particular, delivers an exhausted vulnerability that perfectly encapsulates the bitterness of a younger man forced to put his life on hold to help someone else.
Maxwell's directional style is indicative of the overall feel of the film; simple-yet-effective. Scenes are shot in a fairly typical soap opera style, yet the use of a hazy hue in the flashback segments is a smart way to visually differentiate between past and present. This device is particularly poignant given the different ways Alex and Shane recall their past and the painful relationships with their parents.
The arc of the brothers is mostly effective, though the limited budget can sometimes make scenes feel a little unbelievable, contrasting the excellent direction and performances. Of course, the film was shot with virtually no budget and during the midst of the pandemic, so concessions have to be made. At any rate, the look of the funeral scene, for example, sets expectations low, though the sets, costumes, and props only improve from there.
Music is crucial to the film's identity, and the final song is impressively realised. Unfortunately, the lip-syncing is less convincing, though the return of the piano from the opening is an appropriate way to bring the story full circle. However, the quickness with which that device returns reflects the second act's breakneck pace, as the conflict between the brothers is resolved just as it's beginning to get interesting. An additional few minutes of tension before Alex diffuses the scene with that revelation could've worked in the film's favour.
Regardless of any niggles, Brother is an impressive short that delivers a realistic, emotional drama and a hopeful message about moving on from trauma and reconciling with estranged family members. Its performances are strong and its use of music is effective. Director Louis Maxwell has a powerful artistic style and is one to watch over the next few years.