A keenly felt exploration of the perceived divide between eras, minorities and sexuality in different time periods and how history can always be expected to repeat itself – writer/director Rodney Evans' Brother To Brother is a winning, engaging film that steps away from the conventions of the gay-and-lesbian-themed genre, refusing to pander and creating something genuine and honest.
Anthony Mackie (the hot-headed boxer in Million Dollar Baby, the main character of Spike Lee's She Hate Me) shows his range again as Perry, a gay, African-American painter whose family has more or less disowned him due to his sexual preference. Conflicted and consumed by misgivings about his identity, Perry strikes up a mentorship with gay elderly poet Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), one of the last remaining figures of the Harlem Renaissance, reduced to living in a homeless shelter. The film explores both Perry's gradual self-realization and a fond remembrance of Harlem Renaissance literary giants such as Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata) and Zora Neale Hurston (Anjuanue Ellis); as Perry finds his place, dealing with homophobia and artistic frustration, Bruce helps put his internal struggles into context, relaying his own story in the process.
Writer/director Evans skillfully makes his points, interlacing archival footage with seamlessly crafted period recreations as well as lending a gritty, evocative air to the modern scenes – drawing the parallels between being a gay artist nearly 50 years apart. Mackie and Robinson power the film with a pair of magnificent performances: Mackie, the tentative young man coming out of his shell and Robinson, the still youthful poet who takes a shine to the sensitive painter. The film isn't without its few bumps but overall, it's a fine, low-key, Sundance-award winning effort worth seeking out.
Presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, Brother To Brother looks grainy and noisy, which would usually be a negative, except that it helps give the film an authentic sense of place; there's noise and occasional artifacting, but it doesn't distract too much from the overall presentation.
The jazz-heavy and reliant-upon-dialogue film aren't done many favors by the occasionally muffled Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack – that said, there are still moments with a little bass and the piercing trumpet notes of the score occasionally distort, but otherwise, this is a perfectly serviceable track.
This DVD comes loaded with a considerable amount of supplemental material: a pair of commentaries – one from Evans, one from Mackie – help flesh out the film further; the film's non-anamorphic theatrical trailer; a 20 minute full-screen interview with Evans; 7 minutes, 24 seconds of deleted scenes in non-anamorphic widescreen of varying quality and playable only together as well as trailers for On_Line, Showboy, Friends & Family and Laughing Matters.
Brother To Brother is a genuine, engaging film that transcends any perceived gay-and-lesbian-themed genre boundaries to say some truly resonant things about race and sexual preference as they relate to art. Recommended.