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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Brother John
Brother John
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // January 7, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matt Langdon | posted February 4, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Brother John fits into that genre we might call the 'stranger came to town' genre. John Kane – played by the inimitable Sidney Poitier – is a mysterious, laconic man who returns to his small home town in Mississippi to attend his sister's funeral.

It seems he only returns when there is a death in the family. And the only person who takes notice is his old doctor Dr. Thomas (Will Geer). Dr Thomas has a sense though that John is more than he appears. He feels there is something magical about John and that he may be a prophet a priest or an angel.

Nobody knows where John lives, what he's up to or where he's been. In fact, few really care but when he comes back home the local sheriff and the mayor take an interest since they believe he may have something to do with the local union, which is on strike and causing them nothing but trouble. They believe he may be a professional agitator so they begin a 24-hour surveillance on him.

John is somewhat amused by the whole thing but he stays pretty much to himself. That is until he is approached by a young school teacher (Beverly Todd) – who went to high school with him – who finds herself attracted to his stately presence, which is quite in contrast to the crude working class town folk that make up most of the people in town.

The film is mysterious too since we don't really know what John has been up to all these years. And the evidence becomes a little more interesting as the authorities ransack his motel room and find, a passport with stamps from dozens of countries, Bibles in other languages and blank journals.

The white authorities, of course, are complete racist pigs who push around the blacks in the area. And because of this it is a fine pleasure to watch John kick one cop around when he challenges him to a fight. Other than that the whites are pretty much stereotypical hicks.

Brother John is an odd film not just for the subject matter, which remains cryptic, but for the way it is put together. The film was made in 1971 and has a distinctly 70's feel with its close-ups, editing rhythms, acting style and particularly its score – which was done by Quincy Jones.

The message of the film seems to be that the town people project their own insecurities on this stranger and soon they are all trying to get rid of him. But the filmmakers indulge our curiosities a bit by making John a bit of a premonition prophet who can foresee the death of others, which is why he always seems to come to town right before there is a death. And so the film becomes a mystery of sorts.

Video
The DVD is presented in 1.85:1 and looks fairly good. The colors are muted and have a dusty natural look so that nothing in the film is sharp or colorful. But this is partly the way in which it was shot. The print used for transfer has signs of wear but it is not bad.

Audio
The audio is in Stereo and sound okay. The dialogue though is occasionally drowned out by the outside ambient sound and by the score. At times the sound is particularly harsh. An effect that the filmmakers may have done on purpose but it is unsettling nonetheless.

Extras
There are three trailers for other Sidney Poitier movies and a talent bio for some of the actors in the film.

Overall
Brother John is a fairly good drama about a stranger who comes back to his home town where he finds opposition from the locals. The film has a subtle mysterious 'Twilight Zone-like' feel and that is what keeps it interesting. The DVD presentation is standard.

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