Johnson, on the other hand, is always easy to read, constantly wearing his heart on his sleeve. Though Michael doesn’t intend to be seen, it can’t be helped, and this openness of character is precisely what incites so much love for him. He isn’t painted as a victim but as a dependent. And as we tour his life in Virgo’s three stages, it isn’t until we learn of Francis’ departure (the context of which isn’t explicitly revealed until the final act) that we see Michael come into his authority. He is the film’s emphatic core, driving the emotional weight and expressing it with sensitivity in its gravity, contrasting Francis’s stone-cold disposition.
As their neighborhood sees an uptick in gang violence, Francis withdraws. The brothers come of age during the 1990s hip-hop renaissance, as Michael’s dream is to be an emcee like Dr. Dre. Yet as he grows up, pulling further away from the family unit and into independence, the household is left rocked. Their mother, Ruth (Marsha Stephanie Blake), is a force of tough but tender love. Her ideas for the home are rigid, but her love for Michael and Francis butts against them in a typical head vs. heart dilemma. Blake gives a stunning performance as we view her development as much as Michael’s. From the boys’ childhood to Francis’ eventual departure, Ruth undergoes waves of change she can’t keep up with, and her relationship with Michael supplements the film’s heart after Francis leaves the picture.
Todor Kobakov’s spellbinding score glues the film’s emotional display to its stunning visuals. Played over meditative moments, the music brings “Brother” down to earth while warm versus cool color schemes paint the screen with damning dissonance. No feeling in “Brother” goes unfelt; every element of its filmmaking taps into the heart. As Michael navigates his memory, trying to reconcile ideas of masculinity against unforgiving circumstances, a study erupts: that of the spirit’s resolve and the immortality of familial love. “Brother” is a portrait of Black youth pitted against forces beyond their control.
Now playing in theaters.