As mentioned before, exploring the unexplored territory of film making, and any medium is a huge interest for me. Sometime you could be among the first to see great talent emerge from nowhere like I did when I first saw Gareth Evan’s Merantau (2009) before the release of The Raid: Redemption in 2011 which launched the writer/director into mainstream success. Here, it’s not the same discovering a hidden talent waiting to be recognized, but rather seeing if the filmmakers can hone their talent, and improve their crafts later on in their career.
Brothers in Arms follows four unemployed college graduates discontent with their lives turning to a life of crime. If the premise sounds interesting it’s made further unfortunate that it’s pedestrian in its understanding of crafting story, and characters. For starter, it starts with a flash forward of a bank heist in progress which only takes half an hour to get to that point. What happens before then offers very bluntly its characterization, and story. This could be forgiven, but as the film went on it became harder to forgive since it kept telling everything to the viewer leaving nothing to the imagination. There’s a scene a couple minutes before hitting the one hour mark where characters Michael (played by Nick Tag), and Ann (Katelyn Kenyon) in the most direct way possible talk about Michael flaws as a person. It’s this scene that encapsulate the amateur writing in a nutshell. From the beginning of the film Michael struggle to grow up, and as the film progresses there’s nothing else that fleshes out that conflict.
The best chance the film had in rising above it limitation is with the character of Michael. He’s a young man who had a opportunity to make a better life for himself, and didn’t take it. Witnessing him live with that regret is a focal point for about 20 minutes before deciding to rob banks. Now, with a discontent character who bluntly (like this passage) who casually have its characters spell everything else to the viewer one would expect being a stagnant in life for a motivation to go into robbing banks. Sadly, the actual motivation becomes one of out a sheer boredom for Michael after bank robbery is just casually suggested as a possible activity to relieve boredom. Thankfully, this motivation changes later on in the film, and evolves into something else entirely in a positive manner. Although, it becomes a taste of the good life sort of deal that only brought up on a surface level. If a bit longer, the film likely would have expanded more on how the accumulating wealth changed them more than what it actually shows.
Another thing about the film is it’s pretty standard as a heist film. However, the acknowledgement of these flaws within don’t make them any less inferiority. For example, in preparation for their first bank heist the four unemployed college graduates decide to watch a bunch of heist movie, and nothing else. They don’t bother practicing performing heist, practice to be better marksman, practice to be better getaway drivers, or anything. These four guys take notes during the stakeouts, having the lookout watch for cops, a loose canon, someone who keeps track of time, and the calculating leader. Those familiar with heist films will find common ground plastered all over the film. Including the illogically classic scene that won’t die regardless of what year it is where you have a character who gets shot, and taken to a veterinarian to get treatment.
As someone who consumes media frequently on, and offline suspension of disbelief is assured to a product. Granted, it doesn’t excuse anything of poor quality. However, if something is engaging, or entertaining enough to make me forget about it shortcoming enough than any dumbfounding moment can be forgiven. This film has no many of them that could have been avoided, and half of them should be common sense. For example, if you’re planning to rob banks it’s best not to discuss the matter in a public bowling alley, or later on in the film talk about one last job in a restaurant. It’s also another thing to see people who never had training shooting with guns magically being better than trained police officers. The other characters sadly don’t get much scenes to themselves like you would rightfully expect in other heist films. It either focuses on Michael, or Detective Sinclair (played by John Welsh) attempting to solve the case. There groundwork is good here for a good story, and well defined characters, but the execution lacks the polish needed to pull it off.
When it comes to the acting it’s all around modest. Generally being okay, to acceptable, and the rare occasion of “are you even trying to act”. Nick Tag is the star the movie virtually hold a majority of the film on his shoulder. His character drives the story, Nick Tag is able to carry the film fine. Tag doesn’t delve too deeply into his character never having a single scene where he gets overly emotional, but shows restraint in scenes that he could have easily overacted in for dramatic tension. There’s Nick Tag costar Dexter Masland who plays John whom comes off as a college jock type of character. The portrayal is one sided, but is enthusiastic in playing the comedic relief at times despite the poor film humor. If given better material Masland could have gotten a laugh, or two out of me.
Zeph Foster plays Levi who suffers from a lack of range. Imagine Bill Paxton’s classic line “Game over, man. Game over!”from James Cameron’s Aliens taking physical form as a fictional character. Sure that sounds like cheesy fun, but Foster is unable to have any fun in his portrayal. He’s bland in his reaction, even in his more comedic moments he doesn’t come off as convincing. Granted, none of his other costars are technically convincing, but they are at least passable enough to not be distracting. There’s finally Cory (Not in the house) de Silva who plays Christian who is the most uptight among the characters. He has to displays the most resistant to his friends plans of committing heist. Being just the right amount of whining, and soft spoken to not come across as annoying. The only other noteworthy cast members are Katelyn Kenyon, and John Welsh who both can be best described as screen fodder. Kenyon is simply cornering while Welsh just has one facial expression for most of the film to get across he’s serious about catching these bank robbers.
On a technical level I can give praise to director Caleb J. Phillips who manage to make a professional looking film on a obviously small budget. Demonstrating a clear understanding of making the most out of very limited resources. Asides from the prop guns in on scene, nothing screams cheaply made when viewing it. It’s looks nice thanks to cinematographer Laura Jansen, the sets while ordinary have a lot in them, and understands what not show in certain sequences to hide its shortcoming. I can also appreciate Trevor Doukakis earnest attempt in crafting a good story. However, the one technical area that will make, and have made a majority of viewers quit the film is the awful sound balancing in beginning of the movie. Since it starts with a flash forward of a bank heist the audio is loud, and obnoxious while playing the classical music “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Kevin MacLeod. In fact, around half the music in the film can be found on incompetech which has tons of royalty free music. So that’s aspect is pretty cheap, but the loud bombardment of noises is enough to make some viewer stop seeing it. I would encourage them it gets better, but there’s no pay off for putting up with a rough start.
Brothers in Arms (2017) is competent student filmmaking on a technical level, but everything else falls far below that. The writing feels genuine in crafting a good story, but is unaware how to do it being a constant misfire of comedy, drama, and basic common sense. The filmmakers here show they can possibly make a good movie, and care about what they’re doing in a cinematic language. Brother In Arms (2017) is not a film I enjoyed, or consider good in any long stretch, but there’s talent here, and witnessing it possibly turn into something good makes the experience worthwhile for me.