Will Canon’s Brotherhood, which scooped the Audience Award at the 2010 SxSW Festival, is a true-blood American picture. Its subject matter – the dreaded “jock” and the perils of the fraternity pledge – is one we only know in this country from the movies, while the country’s gun control laws dictate every trigger-happy convenience store clerk packs a piece under the counter.
And, in spite of being an indie production, the film cribs straight from the Jerry Bruckheimer all-flash/no-depth playsheet. In interviews, Canon has alluded to some lofty influences – Joe Carnahan’s Narc, Michael Mann’s body of work and the revenge exploitation thrillers of the 1970s. Perhaps somewhere over the Atlantic that got lost in translation, because it the closest thing Brotherhood resembles is the lunk-headed puerile behaviour of Animal House crossed with the ludicrous plot machinations of Death Wish 3.
The plot is the stuff of unfortunate happenstance: while pledging to the frathouse Sigma Zeta Chi, reluctant mop-head Adam (Morgan) has his machismo pushed the limit when a fellow “pledge” is shot in the shoulder during a botched convenience store heist. Adam wants to take him to the hospital; his superior, Frank (Foster), doesn’t. So transpires a series of sweaty shout-matches back at the house, wherein our "heroes" forgo all common sense and inadvertently cause a series of errors (Uh oh! The only doctor who can help has a concussion!) which cause the situation to plummet from bad to worse.
The leads are an indistinguishable collection of WASPish college-age boys with identikit appearances (nice haircuts, combat shorts, sculpted features, a tendency to scream “Fuck!” at each other every five seconds) and zero character development. Most recognisable of the bunch is Pucci, once known for playing the emaciated waif in indie navalgazers such as Thumbsucker, but is here reduced to the Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs role of casually bleeding to death in a corner over the course of the film’s running time. Admittedly when the camera stops shaking there’s some slickness to the execution that’s admirable in a film with such a modest budget – stylistically its closest cousin would be something like the equally dismal Running Scared – but it’s all for naught. The ultimately inconsequential and maddening screenplay is by turns confused, repetitious, asinine and overwhelmingly dumb as our hapless protagonists exchange in endless back-and-forth, expletive-laden rants which serve no other purpose than to stretch a threadbare premise to breaking point. A "tragic" denouement is added on as a plot convenience and less of a natural development which smacks of a last-minute attempt to graft some profundity onto the narrative.
To be sure there may be some merit to exploring this subject matter in depth, but Canon merely observes pack behaviour without adding any form of critical insight. You’re either a “bitch” or a “pussy” if you don’t pledge, or an absent-minded victim of manslaughter if you do. Worse – the only prominent female character in the film is an accident-prone shrew that drunk-drives and screams about tampons, while in one of the film’s more bizarre transgressions another girl is said to have been sexually violated with a broomstick in some capacity by the film’s sole African American. Brotherhood, while watchable enough, is like most nights out that start out pleasant and end up in a vomity haze – one you’ll probably want to forget in the morning.