Brother's Keeper
New Video // Unrated // $24.99 // July 29, 2003
Review by Phillip Duncan | posted July 27, 2003
Highly Recommended
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A little over 10 years ago filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky began a professional relationship that would prove beneficial to both and produce several successful documentaries. The pair first set their sights on the Ward Boys after reading an article about the strange murder case in Munnsville, New York.

The "Ward Boys" were four brothers that live in a small farming community (population 499) in New York. Dairy farmers all their life, the brothers spent their time--when not working--in a dilapidated 2-room house with no running water or heat. The brother's lived in isolation their whole life until the third brother Bill was found dead in the bed he shared with his brother Delbert. What followed was a murder trail that garnered national attention and raised many questions about the way the brother's lived.

Berlinger and Sinofsky arrived with cameras in hand before the trail began and followed the case until its resolution. In the process they captured a portrait of what it was like to live and grow-up in a different time. Delbert's arrest for his brother's murder brought the small town together to stand against authorities in defense of the three brothers' that they virtually did not know.

As the town and authorities struggle with the allegations of murder and incest, Delbert's supporters believe that he was forced into a confession that he did not understand. With virtually no education and no lawyer present, did Delbert—whose only experience with the law came from the television show "Matlock"—understand what was truly happening to him.

The filmmakers take an even handed approach and don't attempt to answer any of these questions. They only present the facts and in doing so, they present an intimate portrait of what the brothers' lives were like. They show the hardships they faced and the hardship they faced in their work and everyday lives. Indicative of their hard life, a difficult scene in the movie shows the slaughter of a pig in graphic detail. This disturbing scene shows with simplicity what the brothers' lives were like.

Berlinger and Sinofsky developed the trademark style with this film and deliver a mesmerizing work in the process. With a cinematic style and natural narrative, the pair delivers a documentary that seems intimate and probing at the same time. The footage has been assembled into fast moving piece that shows a look into a corner of America that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. It's a look at stereotypes and what relying on those beliefs to make judgments can do.

Video: The video is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio that preserves the original aspect of the documentary. Shot mostly on film and combined with director of photography Douglas Cooper's visuals, it's a dazzling looking film. The age of the film shows and areas of grain and pixilation are present, but do nothing to distract from the film.

Audio: The Dolby digital stereo soundtrack reproduces the soundtrack and the vocals perfectly. With no surround information, the track is perfect for the film and no complaints can be found with it.

Extras: For the film's Tenth Anniversary, Docurama has loaded the DVD with excellent extras. The filmmakers provide a running commentary for the entire film that is both entertaining and informative. They cover everything from upcoming projects, personal feelings and background information on how and what they did while filming. It's a perfect example of what a good commentary should be. Also included on the disc are several deleted scenes that range in length. While they flesh out the story, some are restatements of facts presented elsewhere. The directors provide comments on each one as to why it was left out. Also included on the disc is a short film called "The Wards Take Manhattan." After the trial, the brothers came to visit the directors in Manhattan and this footage was to originally serve as the films ending. They later changed their mind and it was cut together as this short. Running about 10-minutes, it's a look at the brothers out of their element and shows the relation they developed with the directors. Lastly, there is a small photo gallery, bio section and trailer included.

Overall: "Brother's Keeper" is an excellent first film from this pair that would later produce the other award winning documentaries "Paradise Lost" and "Revelations: Paradise Lost 2." This packed DVD offers up an excellent transfer of the film and a great selection of documentaries. It's glimpse into a lifestyle that most will never experience. More than that, it's an examination of three sides to a story as seen by the media, the law and a community.

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