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Two Brothers (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 25 June 2004
Annaud has returned to that approach with “Two Brothers,” the story of a pair of tiger cubs, separated from their mother and each other, and what befalls them as they grow to young adults. This could not have been an easy movie to make; tigers are not the most trainable of cats, and while Annaud was concerned with the safety of his cast, two- and four-legged, there are some scenes which are disturbing in their fierce realism.

The movie was made mostly in Southeast Asia with a large number of tigers “playing” characters in the movie; he needed cubs of several ages to play the two brothers of the title, called Kumal and Sangha by the people who raise them after they’re taken from their mother. The story is set in the early 20th century, when the world was more wild.

Near the incredible ruins of Angkor Wat, which provide a spectacular background for the beautiful movie, British adventurer and author Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce) captures Kumal when the cub’s father is killed. In innocent ignorance, Aidan has been harvesting statuary from the ruins of Angkor, but he’s betrayed by the chief of a local village. Taken away, he leaves behind young Kumal and the chief’s English-speaking daughter Naï-Rea. Kumal winds up, frightened and alone, in a ratty traveling circus whose aging male tiger takes a fatherly interest in the cub.

McRory is freed from jail by administrator Normandin (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), whose foolish ambitions include building a highway to Angkor Wat. His wife (Phiippine Leroy Beaulieu) takes an interest in McRory, who tries to stay out of any entanglements, though he’s pleased to meet their young son, Raoul (Freddie Highmore).

At the Administrator’s insistence, McRory leads a hunting party for a local Prince (Oanh Nyguen), who heads into the jungle with an enormous entourage, including elephants, to shoot a tiger. The mother tigress is captured and the Prince shoots her—but only puts a hole through her ear. The frightened cat runs off while Raoul makes an amazing discovery: Sangha. He takes the cub home with him as a pet, but soon the cub, which likes Raoul, becomes too fierce to keep in a home, so he’s given to the Prince’s menagerie.

A year passes. To entertain the Prince, it’s decided to pit two male tigers against one another in a battle to the death for a jaded audience of aristocrats. And of course, the tigers chosen are Sangha and Kumal, who have not seen each other since they were cubs.

The script by Annaud and Alain Godard is both carefully elementary and more complex than it seems at first. McRory is a complex character, a big game hunter who’s friendship with the tiger cubs leads him to a different view of the world. The Prince at first seems foolish and pompous, but he has a side that’s both more courageous and darker than we see at first. The relationships between McRory and the Administrator’s wife, and the chief’s daughter, are perfunctorily handled and somewhat intrusive, but few audiences will worry about that.
Because this is a spectacularly beautiful movie, really shot in the Southeast Asian jungles, using the real Ankor Wat and ruins nearby as a background for the stunning wide-screen photography by Jean-Marie Dreujou. Production designer Pierre Queffelean had a wealthy of beautiful ruins and buildings—the Prince’s palace, seen only briefly, is astonishing—and he makes impressive use of them. Technical aspects throughout are excellent, including the music by Stephen Warbeck and the sound (supervising sound editor: Eddy Joseph).

But what people are coming to see, of course, is the tigers, and they’re in almost every scene. First as tumbling, clumsy babies, play-chasing animals in the forest, roughly wrestling with one another, and later as majestic adult tigers with enormous heads and gleaming yellow-green eyes. (As cubs, they have mossy green eyes.) Although there are some visual effects involved, as when young Highmore meets the adult Sangha—no tiger is well enough trained to work safely and alone with a 10-year-old boy—most of what you see is really happening (if not for the apparent reasons).

Thierry Le Portier worked with Annaud on “The Bear,” and is again in charge of the animals for “Two Brothers.” In all, thirty tigers were used, each carefully chosen because of its natural traits which could be used efficiently to match the actions of the script. Tigers are often thought of as solitary animals, but with care, Le Portier even got female tigers to interact playfully with cubs that were not their own. The cubs presented a different set of challenges, but Le Portier’s knowledge of their behavior—put cubs on a riverbank and pretty soon they’ll be playing in the water—and Annaud’s patience result in very convincing “acting.”

Tigers are, of course, among the most visually striking of all animals, with their hugely powerful grace, orange fur and black stripes. Scene after scene makes visually arresting use of the shape and color of the tigers, as when the tigress and her remaining cub race down a road in pursuit of a truck. The road is almost the same orange as the tigers, the jungle around the road is vivid green, and the entire image is as beautiful as anything you’ll see this year.

Not only did Annaud make good use of Angkor Wat, but of a river that seems to have a sculpted bed. The period is evoked casually but well, and does suggest the political turmoil that was gradually building in the area. Just by its nature, the movie is a plea for the protection of tigers, and it’s a powerful one. The tigers seem so much a part of this world that only a person with a dead soul could want them to die away.

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