Reviews Short Narrative

Three Brothers Two (2020) – 4.5 stars

Director: Craig Moore

Cast: Graham Earley, Aaron Adamson, Marie Devine

Running time:  29mins

Grief is a monster which everyone, rich or poor, has to contend with at some stage in their lives. Capitalism is almost infinitely creative, but it has not yet come up with a device to allow you to pay for someone to do your grieving for you. Although I suppose high-end transactional psychoanalysis comes pretty close. We grieve alone but how we grieve affects those around us and particularly those closest to us. Most of us when grieving have thoughts of anger and blame as part of a wide spectrum of emotions welling up inside. Problems arise when anger becomes the predominant feeling and crowds out any other. Craig Moore’s (no relation) short narrative film set in rural Ireland paints a powerful portrait of how a response to bereavement exclusively focused on anger can tear apart a family.

Three Brothers Two opens in a church to sombre organ music with a shot of two framed photos of two men and one of the men and a dog. Light streams through the church windows in the numinous way that it does when there is strong sunshine outside. We get the idea that we are at the aftermath of a funeral. The camera focuses on Jack (Graham Earley) sitting alone – we get the impression that the other mourners have left. In a cleverly constructed scene, Jack is joined by Aine (Marie Devine) who urges Jack to come back to the family home as his mother is waiting. They embrace and Aine leaves. Jack is all barely concealed anger, Aine is composed and holding it together. Tony (Aaron Adamson) comes into the church. Tony is very definitely not keeping it together, sobbing, and distraught, and is met with a volcanic explosion of anger from Jack. The dialogue gives us a sketch of what has gone down. The dead man was Tommy, Jack’s brother. Tony, is brother to Aine, and Aine has been in a long-term relationship with Jack. Tony was best friend of Tommy. Tommy died of a drug overdose or poisoning, and Jack’s vitriol and anger is directed at Tony because he believes Tony encouraged Tommy to take drugs (popping pills and snorting). So…very much a family affair. Jack meets Aine the following day. The scene is set on a walkway out onto a lake, Aine joins Jack. The lake is a stunning blue against the greens of the Irish countryside and makes a great backdrop for two isolated human beings effectively talking at one another. Jack frames his anger as grounded in realism whilst Aine has to suppress her own anger at Jack and look at what is best for the family. The woman has to be the adult whilst the men act as children: Jack consumed by anger and Tony a whimpering wreck. It is a beautifully crafted and acted scene which ends simply with Jack telling Aine to fuck off.

Moore then uses a device that I am not fond of – a caption with Three Months Later. I believe the information can easily be brought out in the dialogue without the need to draw attention to the artifice of the filmmaker and break the flow of the movie. Jack has used the time to grow a beard and his newly hirsute self is shown getting into shape by pummelling a punchbag in the DIY gym in his garage – the viewer has to conclude the anger is still there. Jack then visits the local pub where he has a reconciliation meeting with both Aine and Tony. Jack invites Tony to a celebratory meet up where friends can shoot at targets in memory of Tommy – Tommy was a keen amateur marksman. The director has efficiently put in place the base for what becomes a dramatic and increasingly frenetic finale.

The narrative throughout is spot on – hardly a word wasted in driving the dialogue and establishing the characterisation. It was a wise decision to focus on the triangle of the main characters and the jagged nature of their relationship given Jack’s all-consuming anger. Moore is ably served by the ensemble playing. Earley’s is the stand-out performance – he sure does glowering rage well. The scene when he first explodes at Tony in the church is terrifying to watch. He gives a subtle, intelligent portrayal of someone who believes their take on reality is the only show in town. Devine convinces as the adult trying to do the right thing as pacifier and also manages to convey a wistful sadness that the men around her are such pricks. However, I had a problem with Aaron Adamson’s portrayal of Tony. For me, the character was too one dimensional, Tony is a total wimp without any shading. In the target shooting scene, Adamson came across as a faithful but timid gun dog. A more nuanced characterisation would have set off the contrast with Jack’s angry obsessive far better. I do not think the fault lay with Adamson as an actor but more with what he was being asked to convey.

What I cannot find fault with is the quality of the cinematography (Conor Fleming) and the editing (by the director). The overall feel to the film is beautifully realised. A stand-out piece for me was the portrayal of a conversation between Jack and Tony in a pub car park at night. The lighting and strong evocation of atmosphere absolutely first rate. The composition of several of the scenes had me thinking are they trying to reference the visual arts canon? Looking out across the walkway to the lake with a glowering sky beyond was – hey German Romanticism – move over Caspar David Friedrich. When the sun illuminated Tony’s face before he pulled his hoodie top up was pure Albrecht Dürer’s self-portrait as Christ. I am probably barking up the wrong tree, but this was certainly beautiful cinema.

The piece of editing that I thought most effective was the cutting between the footage of Jack channelling his rage into pummelling the punchbag and footage of him pummelling a real person (prior to the reconciliation scene with Aine and Tony, Jack viciously assaults someone). During the finale, which involves frantic car journeys, Moore uses technology very smartly. Drone footage can often be used too expansively – just because they have a new toy – some directors go over the top. Moore uses it sparingly – the drone shots enhance the drama of a car hurtling through the lanes and hedgerows of the Westmeath countryside. As the action spirals to the climax, the characters inevitably resort to their cell-phones. In an inspired insertion, Moore gives us the text messages that are being sent – the screens of the cell-phones are transposed on top of the footage of the countryside as the drama unfolds so that we can read them in real time – simple but works so well.

Moore made a lot of good calls when putting together the team and got it right by getting Niall Tormey to do the soundtrack. A Dublin friend of mine once, somewhat cruelly I thought, characterised Irish music as either ‘diddly-dum’ or ‘landscape’. Presumably Tormey can do ‘diddly-dum’ but this is very much the latter. And what a sumptuous audio backdrop to a pastoral stage it provides – I particularly enjoyed the sonorous piano chords with string accompaniment that sets the mood for the final part of the film.

A few quibbles noted above but an otherwise astonishingly accomplished piece of work by someone who on this showing must be one of the most exciting emergent talents on the independent scene. I am assuming the piece was finished prior to lockdown and am eager to see what Moore comes up with when we all eventually emerge blinking into the sunlight. The pandemic has raised the stakes for many of us in terms of loss and grief and Moore has in Three Brothers Two provided a timely reminder that the only way to come to terms with our grief is to try to truly care for those around us.

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