Film Review – Brotherhood

Will Canon’s debut feature Brotherhood (2010) is a film that of late I’ve been telling everyone I know to go see—and it’s not because of the film’s relatively clever recontextualization of film noir tropes and elements into a college setting, or how Canon achieves a dirty, blackly humorous note that, barring a fair bit of urban, suburban machismo and posturing that comes off slightly off-hand, and overly repetitive attempts at creating what seem to be new college frat slogans, sings like witching hour magic throughout. No, the reason I’ve been pimping this film so strongly is because it was shot in and exclusively around Arlington, Texas. Which, for the first sixteen years of my life—accounting for all but three and a half, by now—was my hometown; I know the burg like the back of my hand, all the way from Lincoln Square to the Parks, and off. Canon does, too—and while providing for a competent genre exercise, at the same time he gives us a visual snapshot of my home and his, the asshole of Texas, Aggtown.

I have to admit, it is a little strange, the effect this movie had on me—sitting in the theater and watching the film for the first time almost a year ago as it was screened at DIFF, so many of the streets, the signs, the shops and the stops that make up the whole of the movie’s environs are places well-traveled by me, so many times. The frat house is on Abrams Street, and I must’ve walked past it sixty times or more in its various states of use over the years, being as it was right down the road from my dear old grandma’s house, and we kids were taken to roam. The gas station at the center of the movie’s low-end heist pledge was one right down the way from my old family apartment on Crest Grove and Fielder—it wasn’t the main one we went to, but when we had to we’d walk the ten or twenty extra meters for a loaf of bread. Sights and sounds—I’d like to call it nostalgia, but it wasn’t even that long ago. Friends who still live in the old neighborhood even called me up during production to say, “hey—they’re filming something big out here at the Zoom-In. You should come and see, movie boy!” Of course, I was in Dallas at the time and without a car, so getting out would’ve been a little difficult.

And, all of it is filmed and represented with such an implicit sense of panache—Canon allows the feeling of gritty, “I need to scrub my face” dirtiness that comes later on with the constant mishaps of the frat pledge sink and seep in, giving everything an organic, sweaty feel that at the same time makes no bones about how much it owes to film noir genre formula and aesthetic intent. And, while it’s obvious the film is trying to create a memorable slogan with “Brother or Bitch” (and oh man, will you get tired of hearing that), the rebellion against Jon Foster’s frat leader Frank by Adam is immediate in its initial cause and its stark, violent retribution, bringing to mind the best of those self-similar scenes from film noir of the past, notably Rian Johnson’s Brick, which, yeah, okay, is kind of an obvious comparison, but it is the film with which the movie shares the most surface similarities.

But, Brotherhood is a bit less of a playful reconstitution than Brick was—it, like that film, sees the new and different possibilities a less obvious context would have on the whole of the film’s structure, but it doesn’t make as large or important a sweeping motion out of utilizing them. The things it does, it does in a largely true to form fashion, which is to say that it remains true to the particular formula that it’s chosen to outline itself by, and does so earnestly and without a hint of ostentatiousness. Quietly, almost, but any group of film nerds with a shot glass and a bottle of whiskey in hand will be stone-cold by the end of the night if they were to attempt to count off the film’s similarities to its forebears on either hand; but, Canon also cites the exploitation cinema and in particular the films of Roger Corman as a point of initial inspiration, and that’s more than a little obvious here as well, both internally and out. That implicit dedication toward giving the audience nothing but a well-orchestrated genre film that makes the blood race to the johnson so quickly that it turns the skin a bright red. If you can’t tell, I’ve spent almost a whole paragraph rambling on about all of this relatively minute stuff because there really isn’t much to the film’s narrative, in an emotional or tautological sense. It’s really just a bit of pure, visual and visceral fun, honestly—but, I couldn’t very well write about the old, dusty memories the film brings out of my head for eight paragraphs, now could I?

Now, what does bring the film down is several of the seemingly non-sequitur sequences that come out of nowhere, given some kind of emotional importance all of the sudden, and take away from the film’s head long trajectory. The splash-back from a recent raid on a local sorority is one such scene—in the trailers, it looks like it has some kind of visceral relevance to the “you guys did something terrible” plot of the film, somehow—but it doesn’t, and it fades from memory just as quickly, having taken up a good fifteen minutes of screen-time, at least, that could’ve easily been spent on the much more interesting drama inside the frat building. There are a number of scenes like this in the movie, and I can’t quite figure out Canon’s narrative motivation for including them in here.

Still, for all its flaws, I can’t not like this film—while all of the people in this movie seem to come from richer, nicer neighborhoods than the one I came up in, a townie knows a townie. And, Canon most definitely knows Arlington, with a keen eye for our speak, our look and our walk, while all the while giving it a refreshing spit-shine all his own. I do approve.

Final Grade: B+

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Henry J. Baugh is the pseudonym of "________," and runs The Filmist weblog as well as being a freelance writer-for-hire for any site, magazine or journal that will take his chicken scratch on a regular basis.

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  • Calypso Bay

    Intense.