The crisp, cool crime thriller “Brother” has caused its writer-director to become known as the Russian Tarantino. And certainly the film plays gleefully with the conventions of the genre, leaving out key bits of information and slowly revealing the plot against expectations. But Balabanov has gone from here to make a very different kind of film (“Of Freaks and Men”) and is now working on “Brother 2,” in which he sends his protagonist to America.
Danila (Bodrov) is a bored teen in the Russian provinces. His mother sends him to St Petersburg to find his brother (Sukhorukov) and sort himself out. But when he gets to the big city, he soon rises to the sophistication of crime there. His brother, a small-time thug, sees in him a chance to make a bit of money on the side, getting Danila to do his dirty work for him. But Danila proves a bit more adept at it than anyone expects.
The film’s main theme is that the city is a force to be reckoned with–it both requires and drains our strength. And you must be strong to survive … and to get out. Balabanov approaches this with an edgy, fascinating style that keeps us gripped. We’re not quite sure if we like the music and guns-obsessed Danila, whose deep sense of morality clashes with his narrow-minded bigotry. Bodrov gives a magnetic central performance and is nicely balanced by the supporting cast, including two intriguing women he befriends (Pismichenko’s battered wife and Zhukova’s lost party-girl). There may not be much to say here–besides the usual examination of the criminal underworld and brotherly bonds–but this is solid filmmaking from an assured artist who no doubt has more surprises up his sleeve.