The young men arrive at prison by very different routes. Jorge (played now by Caco Ciocler) is convicted of bank robbery. Miguel (played now by Flavio Bauragui) is a militant leftist dissident jailed for politically-motivated crimes against the military junta. They are tossed into a prison population that is newly teeming with political prisoners like Miguel. In short order, the political prisoners wrest control away from the warden by a successful hunger strike, and that success together with their sheer numbers gives them control over the inmate population itself. Firmly established, the collective prohibits vice and provides leftist political indoctrination to the non-political inmates.
As the years advance, the cohesion of the prison collective established during the peak of the imprisonment of political prisoners weakens as those who have completed their sentences are replaced with non-political inmates. Jorge attempts to smooth the transition by softening the collective's prohibitions on vice, while moving the criminals towards a cooperative action framework. Jorge's efforts fail though when Miguel frustrated by the reemergence of drugs, theft, and sodomy within the prison, compels the physical separation of the political prisoners from the non-political inmates. Abandoned by Miguel, Jorge asserts control of the non-political inmates using the organizational methods learned from the political prisoners leavened with the brutality of the criminal gang. Here begins one of Brazil's most disciplined and dangerous gangs, 'the Red Command'.
Miguel and Jorge's paths continue to diverge after they're released. In the post-junta Brazil, Miquel is propelled into political office as a senator, while Jorge garners power as a drug kingpin. When they meet again in 2004, Miguel (now played by Werner Shunemann) is looking for support for social programs in the favela controlled by Jorge (now played by Antonio Pompeo) who is back in prison and distracted by trying to manage a favela turf war via cell phone (no pun intended). I won't reveal what awaits Jorge and Miguel, but suffice to say, Almost Brothers does not end on a happy note.
Though I've just outlined the story in a straightforward chronology, director Lucia Murat employs a non-linear narrative that shifts often and without warning between the 1950s, the 1970s, and 2004. While contemporary audiences are by now sufficiently accustomed to such artifices to not be flummoxed, the shifts occur far more frequently than is warranted, and are often more disruptive than revelatory.
Though there is little in common between the unadorned cinematography of Almost Brothers and the visual flourishes of City of God (2002) and the Brazilian television series City of Men (2002-2005), the narrative commonalities are not coincidental. They're all written by Paulo Lins. Raised in a favela, Lins has matured into a leading voice in modern Brazilian political fiction. It is his skill as a writer that makes Almost Brothers strong enough to weather the superfluous temporal shifts.
Although the removable yellow subtitles are adequate in appearance and are comprehensible, they suffer from being written by a non-native English speaker. Odd word choices, such as 'pederasty' instead of 'sodomy' and 'bugle' instead of 'trumpet', incorrect phrase constructions, such as 'take it up' instead of 'take this', and translations of popular names that vary from the accepted English norm, such as 'Red Squadron' for the infamous Brazilian criminal organization 'Red Command', all subtly come between the film and the viewer. While mistakes like these are common on import DVDs, I would have expected better from First Run Features.