A taut two-hour original pic from director John Badham, USA’s “Brother’s Keeper” cleverly plays the emotion and action cards, offering a mix of “Silence of the Lambs” psychological thrills with “CSI” gritty detective work. Badham, a veteran of character-driven action movies, creates a visually textured account of the unbreakable emotional bond between brother and sister.
Told in a mix of present-day action and fragmented flashbacks, we learn of a relationship between criminal investigator Lucinda Pond (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her younger and very disturbed brother Ellis (Corin Nemec). Both survived their abusive childhood at the hands of their alcoholic father, with Lucinda serving as Ellis’ protector. Big sis, who often took the belt for her brother, taught him to solve riddles and word problems as a diversionary tactic.
As adults, the two still exchange riddles, but Ellis is imprisoned for various petty crimes while Lucinda becomes a highly decorated cop. Her career, however, is cut short after her investigation into an alleged serial killer, Victor Orbin, goes awry and costs her her marriage and badge.
When a string of murders occur with Orbin’s signature on them, chief homicide detective Travis Adler (Leland Orser) calls Lucinda out of self-imposed exile to work on the case. As Lucinda starts her investigation, against the will of FBI agent Arthur Fortis Jr. (Evan Dexter Parke), she realizes that her brother Ellis, who recently escaped from prison, may be behind the deaths.
Writers Steven Baigelman and Glen Gers display a tactful knowledge of the indelible scars of abuse, carefully crafting Lucinda as the quintessential enabler, conflicted over empathy for her brother and a passionate quest for justice. And unlike the recent controversy surrounding “A Beautiful Mind,” it is never implied here that mental illness can be conquered through unconditional love and endurance.
“Brother’s Keeper” marks a big departure for Tripplehorn. The actress takes on a decidedly unglamorous role as a hard-nosed cop who always tries to protect her younger brother, even if it’s from himself. In fact, the pic makes a point of deglamorizing law enforcement with a cast that looks like they’ve been run through the mill.
Still, it’s a nice ensemble cast that manages an ethnically diverse balance without being pointed. As Lucinda and Fortis (whom she’s dubbed Junior) first fight and then bond, the major issue is between the jurisdictions of FBI and police, not race. As Junior, Parke is extremely appealing, and with the help of Ben Cardinal as Running Bear, gives the film its only levity.
Orser does a low-key but highly effective turn as Travis, someone dealing with his own demons from the past. Nemec has shown a real preponderance for bad-boy roles recently, and except for a few bad wigs, manages to nail down the part.
Tech credits are first rate, with Badham, director of photography Ron Stannett and editor Frank Morriss working in near-flawless synchronization.