On first impression, it’s hard to believe that siblings Michael (Ulrich Thomsen) and Jannick (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) come from the same genetic material, much less a shared family tree. Michael is a kindly family man, a top army officer about to leave Denmark to assist reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Jannick is a surly, frequently drunk ne’er-do-well, jobless after a prison stint. But then catastrophe intervenes to turn this paradigm of Good Brother and Bad Brother on its head. (It’s difficult to discuss Bier’s film in any detail without letting drop a key plot turn, so here’s your spoiler alert.) After Michael’s helicopter crashes and the military presumes him dead, Jannick rapidly grows in spirit and character to fill the void his brother has left behind, much to the delight of Michael’s affable wife Sarah (Denmark native Connie Nielsen in her first Danish role). But Michael survived the crash: he was taken captive by Afghan rebel fighters and then rescued, and he’s about to bring the war home to Sarah and their two small daughters.
Like Bier’s previous film, the Dogme-certified ‘Open Hearts’, ‘Brothers’ sifts through post-traumatic fallout, but here the findings carry an inevitable political charge. The film’s cool tones and clean lines, the largely understated acting and Michael’s mask of white-collar presentability underscore the dissonance of enjoying serene Western comfort while swaths of the globe are burning, perhaps at your government’s behest. The screenplay is a tad schematic but bracing in its refusal to offer easy consolation, and the movie is beautifully acted, with Thomsen’s performance crystallising the abysmal loneliness and corrosive self-involvement of unsharable anguish.