A thoughtful gangster drama set in post-communist Russia.
BRAT “Brother” (1997) Sergei Bodrov Jr. stars in this chilling portrait of crime, poverty, and ethnic hostility in post-Soviet Russia. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, millions of Russians fell into despair, and the Mafia became a force to be reckoned with, and to survive, some flocked to join the organization’s ranks. Brother is a no-frills gangster film that tells the truth about life in central Russia during the 1990’s and a young man’s will to thrive and enjoy life as much as he can.
Danila Bagrov (Bodrov Jr.) has just returned to his hometown after two years of compulsory service in the national army. He claims to have been nothing more than a clerk, but the film sharply depicts Danila having sets of skills that could only be learned by soldiers–weapons expertise and combat training. His mother motivates him to seek out his brother Viktor (Viktor Sukhorukov) for work. Danila travels to St. Petersburg and discovers Viktor has mob ties and recruits him for “favors.” Throughout the progression of his tasks, the protagonist encounters several people who serve as friends: Kat, a young drug addict (Mariya Zhukova), Hoffman, a homeless German (Yuriy Kuznetsov), and Sveta (Svetlana Pismichenko), a trolley driver in an abusive marriage.
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Bodrov Jr.’s performance in this film is superb; Danila is an immediately likable character (despite his various prejudices) who is calm and collected in all situations. He operates on a moral code in which he protects those who cannot help themselves and provides money to whoever surrounds him, alongside being an extraordinary hitman. The violence in the film is realistic and shocking–no need for rap music to be the “tough” backdrop. The other cast members are brilliant and realistic; even Viktor, who is a Mafia member, is very loving and supportive towards his brother. A human element is shown within the world of organized crime, unlike in many gangster films.
The scenery of the movie is outstandingly fitting for the time; dirty, decaying structures are everywhere in sight while people aim to scrape up living by selling an assortment of goods. Chosen youth has turned to drugs to escape the drudgery of their living conditions, and some individuals lose all of their possessions or remain in families where abuse is rampant. Each character represents these grim aspects of transitioning 1990’s Russia.
Those expecting a film reminiscent of American Gangster or Scarface will be surprised as it contains no recognizable stars (at least on this side of the world) or a star-studded soundtrack (though Brother’s soundtrack is very enjoyable). However, the film still has an impact, and it is of no surprise why it is a successful film in Russia. Amazingly, Brother was produced on a budget of only $10,000, proving that not all films are required to have an A-list budget to be magnificent.