review by Zach B.
"Brother's Keeper" is an amazing documentary that centers around the Ward Boys, four brothers who lived in poor living conditions for nearly their whole lives. But when one of the brothers is killed in June 1990, Delbert Ward confesses that he suffocated his brother. However, many in their New York farming town believe that Delbert was set up. Did Delbert, a man who couldn't even read and write, kill his sick brother or was there something else behind it?
Fun Fact: The directors also made the critically acclaimed documentary, "Paradise Lost."
"Brother's Keeper" is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and it's a hard transfer to judge since it has some videotaped segments, but it is mainly a filmed documentary. It's not supposed to be incredibly cinematic or anything, but the transfer looks perfectly fine and natural. Fleshtones are good, detail is excellent, color saturation is well balanced with well-realized colors that are not underwhelming or bleed. Black levels are good too. The print itself is very clean and that should be applauded - no debris, dirt pieces or blemishes are here and get in the way. The transfer has a little noise which isn't too bad and it looks a bit grainy. A very solid effort.
The English stereo track is perfectly fine - there isn't much to it since it is a straight-forward documentary that consists of people mainly talking. With that said, the dialogue is very easy to hear and comes across clear. Sound effects in the background also come in nicely and add a little to the atmosphere such as noises outside and footsteps. The musical cues also sound quite good. It's a standard stereo track that works quite well for the movie which should make viewers happy.
In honor of the film's 10th anniversary, Docurama has created a very terrific DVD edition that offers further insights onto this great movie. First up is an Audio Commentary with Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. Even though this documentary is serious, there are some pretty humorous moments (listen to the first comment on this track dealing with the title card). The directors are very passionate about their work and remember quite a bit about the shoot over ten years later. The two seemed to struggle a bit to make the film, but there are a lot of technical details covered here as far as getting specific footage and the editing process. The track isn't all technical though - the two do talk about getting involved with the Ward story and how the two actually met. At times they get ahead of themselves and interrupt their stories which is a little annoying, but there is a wealth of information here on all sorts of production topics and some great stories. The two are very talkative and sound like nice guys, and it all makes for a very compelling and interesting commentary that is well balanced with the fun, intelligent detailed and general - everything you wanted to know about "Brother's Keeper" you'll find in here. This is definitely one of the best commentaries I have listened to in awhile.
The DVD also features six Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary. The scenes last about twelve minutes in total and the quality is pretty good. The commentary is very frank - Berlinger seemed reluctant to cut some of the footage out but there seems to have been pressure to cut the movie when it was brought to Sundance (a dreaded version for London TV is also mentioned that deleted 15 minutes from the film). What's also interesting is that the directors haven't seen these scenes in years. Most of the scenes don't add too much and one could argue they just drag things out a bit, but some probably were worthy to keep in the final cut. The scenes are still must-sees if you like the film (be sure to see the one where Roscoe and Delbert reveal they are only half-brothers).
There is also a short film that has never been seen before - The Wards Take Manhattan. It was shot for the movie but was never used. However, a text intro reveals the original negative was damtage so the film was transferred from a 16mm workprint (still, the quality is pretty good). It lasts twelve minutes, and I would have liked some commentary on this, but like the movie itself, it's just quite interesting to see. Basically, it's a montage of the Wards visiting New York City with the filmmakers in the summer of 1991. Text snippets accompany during the film, and it's nice to see the Wards in a context other than what's presented in the film. It's a very laid back, casual short film that is just excellent and quite enjoyable (the brothers never went to New York City before and act like pretty pure tourists) - a must watch that's just amazing.
There's also the interesting Theatrical Trailer which also has a text introduction. No distributors picked the film up, so Berlinger and Sinofskly released the film themselves. With that said, they needed a trailer and enlisted the help of Spalding Gray to talk about the movie (something which he did at Sundance). It's definitely one of the most unique and original trailers you'll ever see - it's funny too and oddly enough, you won't see a frame from the actual film.
Also on the disc is a decent Photo Gallery, a About The Filmmakers section which highlights the directors and finally, a catalog that shows off some of other Docurama's DVD releases (as well as trailers for some of them).
"Brother's Keeper" is a fascinating documentary that should not be missed if you are interested in non-fiction filmmaking (or a compelling story for that matter) - it ranks as one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. While you're probably not buying this DVD for presentation, the transfer and audio are fine and there are some outstanding extras here making this a title that should be considered for you to check out.
Retail Price: $`24.96
Features: Audio Commentary with Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary, The Wards Take Manhattan Short Film, Photo Gallery, About The Filmmakers, Theatrical Trailer
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Stereo, Scene Selection (12 Scenes)
Released: July 29th, 2003
Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed by: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky