It’s as simple as the title, films that have very prominent brother relationships at their core.
American History X (1998, dir. Tony Kaye)
Everyone remembers Edward Norton as the terrifying, swastika tattooed skinhead. The scene where he curbs a young black man who had broken into his house is gut wrenching. What’s interesting is how he so embodies evil in the flashbacks during the film, yet is an incredibly sympathetic character when reformed. His younger brother, played by Edward Furlong, is high school student struggling to understand how his older brother has turned his back on their family’s white power ways. In many ways the film is a race against time picture, Norton is desperately trying to get his little brother to stop being motivated through hate before something terrible happens to him.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003, dir. Andrew Jarecki)
In the 1980s, Arnold Friedman, a Long Island resident was arrested for possession of child pornography. As investigations continued police believe that Arnold and his son Jesse were sexually molesting students of private computer lessons they gave in the home. The two other sons in the family become strained as the family is marked as a pariah in the neighborhood. The evidence for the case is based entirely on the testimony of the students, and it could be interpreted that these confessions were encouraged by the authorities. But that doesn’t explain the magazines, or the overall strangeness of this family and these three brothers. A very disturbing film that, much like in real life, leaves you with a lot of answered questions.
Straw Dogs (1971, dir. Sam Peckinpah)
While the main plot concerns Dustin Hoffman and his British bride being plagued by the local thugs of her hometown, those thugs are brothers through their life together in this small village. In particular, David Warner as Henry Niles, a mentally handicapped man whom tags along with the boys in a major piece in the story. The film is violent and hard to watch. Hoffman basically cracks after being pushed too far by the thugs and precedes to murder them all. By the end of the film Hoffman has take Warner into his care, and Warner has shifted from being the brother of his villagers to a brother with Hoffman. His final line of the movie “I don’t know my way home” is incredibly poignant given the larger context of the film.
Mean Creek (2004, dir. Jacob Aaron Estes)
Mean Creek is a film about actors you are familiar with doing very dark things. Actors from Nickleodeon and Disney Channel shows are featured here as well as a Culkin brother. It seems Sam (Rory Culkin) is bullied endlessly by George (Josh Peck). Sam’s brother and his friends invite George out for a rafting trip with the intention of humiliating George on camera and then showing it to the kids at school. Things go wrong, someone dies, and the group are forced to deal with dark subjects you would never expect them to have to. A body has to be hidden, police have to be lied to, and their innocence is completely destroyed by the end of the film.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke star as brothers whose choices have led them down some very sad paths. Hoffman is a successful investor who has been dipping in the company till to fund his drug habit. Hawke is divorced and estranged from his daughter, he needs money to prove he can share custody. Hoffman suggests they knock over their parent’s jewelry store, knowing that insurance will cover the losses. They send in a third party and things go very bad. The film is told out of sequence and it definitely works well. We see the heist, not knowing who any of these people are, then we jump back and see how it was put together. We see a funeral then we see the brothers hatching their plan. This is probably one of the darkest films about brotherhood and a criminally overlooked film from a master director.