Genre: Crime, Thriller
Directed by: Ryan Bonder
Starring: Anthony Head, Tygh Runyan, Belinda Stewart-Wilson
Whatever Adam Diamond (Tygh Runyan) put on his application for a job checking coats at the Tate Britain, it probably wasn’t the truth. One of the premier cultural institutions in the UK might have balked at his past life as a gun-runner, a career he left after the unfortunate death of a child in the Middle East. Adam’s attempts to escape the family business face severe tests in The Brother, a dreary crime drama that fails to hide one-dimensional character traits and uneven pacing behind elegant finery.
Ryan Bonder’s second feature gives it a good go at least. There’s a simple beauty to the way he captures London in the winter, placing landmarks carefully in the background and letting the bustle of the Southbank speak for itself. A similar detached approach runs throughout whether watching beautiful people dance, troubled people bang out piano tunes or anonymously polite crowds queue up at the Tate to hand over items. This side of Adam, the fresh start, has an enjoyably low-key charm. He works, he paints at home, and he makes tentative approaches to potential love interest Claire (Noémie Merlant).Into this simple slice of life comes a poorly conceived thriller, riding over the top of the new Adam. His brother (Jed Rees) returns, followed shortly by his father (Anthony Head) previously considered lost to the Columbian legal system. There’s much sought after arms dealing information on a hard-drive, unwelcome truths around the death of his mother, the return of an even more sinister relative, and unexpected bouts of extreme violence. Adam is often at the heart of this. When his brother convinces him to help out on an easy job he tells him it’s never that simple. The next moment he’s battering information from a man with his fists. Blood splashes everywhere. Later he’ll run around with a gun and nail an intruder to floorboards.
There’s no flow between past Adam and present. Part of this is Runyan. He approaches everything with emotional detachment, offering half-hearted complaints before going to extremes quite happily. These quick bursts don’t fit with the restrained tone of the rest of the film. A wearying stop-start feel begins to emerge. One scene he might be walking around London, the next he’s having a confusing sexual encounter, then he’s seeing the hazy spirit of a dead child.
While the style is mixed, the characters are universally short-changed. Passive Adam is stuck out alone, surrounded by a collection of gimmicks. His father is suffering from Alzheimer’s, his brother has Asperger’s, and his new girlfriend is deaf. There’s little point to any of it, other than to show one man wandering in confusion around a train station while another re-organises records by genre. Doled out problems are used as character-building shortcuts. Strip them away and very little is left of each individual.
That’s the big problem with The Brother. It wants to look and feel like one of the Turner paintings hanging in Adam’s workplace, but still thrusts in pulp crime elements straight from a cheap paperback. They fail to mix, leaving a family drama lacking in deeper emotions and a crime thriller short of thrills.