Leading the Canadian Screen Awards with 14 nominations, Brother is an enthralling family drama that’s well realized by Lie With Me director Clement Virgo. Though comparisons to 2016’s Oscar winner Moonlight and 2019’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco are inevitable given the coming-of-age material and how a family’s dynamic is examined during a sprawling time frame, Brother still stands out as a true Canadian original.
Brother roots itself in a sibling relationship. Michael (Lamar Johnson) and Francis (Aaron Pierre) are aware of how much they need each other. Michael keeps his older brother anchored, while Francis sees how important his influence is to his younger kin. They grew up without a father but have the love and support of their hard-working mother (Marsha Stephanie Blake). The film hops through different periods – Michael and Francis as kids who have just moved to their new homestead of Scarborough, Ontario, the siblings as high schoolers, and present day where Francis is no longer around. The latter reality features Michael looking after his mother. And as much as other people offer their assistance, Michael is adamant to take care of mom on his own.
The ensemble carries this movie, but Brother places the most focus on Michael as he works out his emotions during discriminatory scenarios and reflections afterwards. He’s often disappointed when people underestimate him, or when peers who share similar cultural and societal traits are oppressive towards him and those he loves. Watching Johnson’s slow-burning performance is rewarding as he hits all the right beats. Pierre and Blake also hold their own and give exceptional performances.
Brother achieves its goal as a poignant study on identity, and the filmmaking impresses on technical levels as well. The fantastic camerawork and tight edits flawlessly transport the viewer throughout the narrative. And even during Brother’s more melodramatic moments, it never loses touch of its themes or its connection to the audience.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie
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