Weekend Watching: Brotherhood (2010)

A fraternity hazing goes wrong when a spoof hold up at a convenience store has some very real consequences. Brotherhood is a story of conflict, consequences, and difficult choices.

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Brotherhood is a low budget film from director Will Canon and it’s a fun if slightly unimaginative tale of a fraternity hazing its new pledges. They’re being driven around town, they’re in the back of a van, and they’re told that they have to rob a series of convenience stores – one each. The pledges are of course terrified but one by one they take the gun, don a balaclava, and leave the van.

Things go well for the first couple of pledges who return triumphantly with bags of cash however our final unlucky pledge finds that his convenience store contains a far more trigger happy clerk. Gunfire ensues and the pledge is shot in the shoulder. Now something that was supposed to be a joke has much darker and more tangible ramifications.

Brotherhood is a convincing enough tale of fraternity life, its black comic tone works for the most part, and its commentary on the dangers of both peer pressure and initiation rituals contains a good deal of reflection on the role of white male privilege and its effects on the ‘other.’ There’s a woman left humiliated, laughed at, and sexually abused and the clerk in the fateful convenience store is black.

Cultural commentary

brotherhood-movie-photos-03Our fraternity brothers on the other hand are all white and led by a traditionally good looking protagonist. This setup provides Brotherhood with some of its deeper moments and there’s a particularly telling line at the end of the film: “This doesn’t happen to people like us.” This is where the film finds its real tone and perhaps even a message – white elite privilege is dangerous, it’s nasty, unpleasant, and humiliating and it’s instilled from a young age.

The film deals primarily with consequences and it’s in this that Brotherhood often finds itself running into trouble. Narratively the stakes increase but at times they do so in such a drastic manner that they become overly exaggerated and unbelievable. However Canon does reign it in and at its best Brotherhood is a carefully plotted thriller with good performances from its relatively untested cast.

What is interesting is the assertion that our heroes really have no idea of what they’re doing; the alpha leader is clueless and racked by indecision, and while he thinks through his next ‘move’ people die. There’s a certain poetic simplicity to that narrative arc and it extrapolates well to real world problems. But although Brotherhood comes close to pure satire and didacticism it always veers off and back to its genre conventions. That’s what it is at its core – a genre piece, a thriller movie with a darkly comic edge.

Indie action movie

As a movie it’s relentless in its full pelt race towards the finale and once it gets going it doesn’t let up. This is thanks to the direction of Cannon but his style often inadvertently reads like any number of big budget Hollywood film. The action is non stop, the consequences continue to increase, and our characters lose any semblance of control. But it’s in that frenetic whirlwind of action and reaction that a good film emerges and our characters are forced to make believable choices in unbelievable situations.

It’s not especially novel cinema but for a low budget indie film it reads well. The consequences of a stupid action are explored and the problems of peer pressure provide an adequate subtext. Cohesively Brotherhood doesn’t always work but thematically it delivers – the final twist is a clever take on a tired formula.

The problem that does emerge in retrospect is just how clearly the pieces of the puzzle fall together. It’s a narrative that sounds like a screenplay and it contains all of the requisite parts that make up the three act structure. This brings us back to our earlier assertion that it’s not a very imaginative film – it’s really not.

It’s certainly not a perfect film but it’s fast, frenetic, and entertaining. At it’s best Brotherhood delivers some clever satire and at its worst it lacks originality. But that’s not especially a bad thing in a film that manages to balance tension with convincing action sequences at a fraction of the budget of any mainstream film.

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Brotherhood is a good genre piece and its narrative explores the machismo, exclusivity, and latent racism in its fraternity ‘heroes.’ The white male myth is shown for what it is – self preservation. Will Cannon has made a film that’s just as riveting as any blockbuster but containing themes that are rarely explored in big budget film.

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