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Just as it did for Hollywood directors during the Depression--the era of Cagney and Raft--the gangster genre in the 1990s allows Russian filmmakers to deal with the political and personal issues of a devastated society, while paying due attention to action and drama. In Brother, Sergei Bodrov Jr. (the son of the director of Prisoner of the Mountains, in which he also stars) plays Danila, a pale young man from the provinces returning home from his military service. He brings nothing with him but an instinctive skill for violence--which he demonstrates when he wanders through a movie set and casually beats up the goons who have been sent to run him off. Heading for St. Petersburg, Danila hooks up with his admired older brother Viktor, now a highly paid hit man. When Viktor farms out a job to Danila, and the younger brother proves to be the greater talent. He goes into business for himself, acquiring new clothes and a new mistress. But with new success comes new enemies; Danila learns to watch his back.
Director Aleksei Balabanov is disturbed by his utterly immoral hero, but is also deeply sympathetic to him--the boy is like an animal, instinctively making his way through an urban wilderness filled with rust and muck. Like the Cagney of Public Enemy, he's an enterprising young businessman who's taken his initiative too far. Danila, who expresses a grunting, intolerant nationalism between gunshots, is last seen heading to Moscow, bringing his country's future with him. No one stands in his way. --Dave Kehr
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