Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Another movie I had never heard of until I saw it show up on TCM and recorded because of an interesting plot synopsis was Brothers. Recently, I finally got around to watching it.

Bernie Casey plays David Thomas, a man who has some minor involvement in an armed robbery and gets sent to prison in Mendocino, CA, as a result. This is the early 1970s, at a time when racial tensions are quite high, and the black prisoners understandably chafe at the treatment they get not only from the white prisoners, but from the guards, who might be even worse. David isn't much of a radical at first, but he shares a cell with Walter Nance (Ron O'Neal), who is rather more radical. Thanks in part to Walter's presence and in part to David's witnessing of the racial abuse he and his fellow black prisoners suffer, he begins to beome more radical, helping to publish a clandestine newsletter for the black prisoners.

David's younger brother Josh wants justice for David, and thinks that the way to get it is to have help on the outside from a more respectable source. To this end, he approaches black college professor Paula Jones (Vonetta McGee). She reads up on the case and starts visiting David in prison, and takes up David's cause. Unfortunately, she also begins to get too close to David for the good of his case.

Things take a turn for the worse when the prisoners riot after one of their own number is killed. A guard is killed in the riot, and David is one of the prisoners assumed to have taken part in the killing, so he's put on trial. Josh compounds problems by showing up to the hearing with a gun and taking the judge and DA hostage, getting all three of them killed in the process. Paula has to flee California because she bought the gun (ostensibly for her own protection) that Josh took and used in the abortive hostage-taking.

I didn't know it as I watched it, but apparently Brothers is based relatively closely on the real-life story of Angela Davis (the Paula Jones character) and George Jackson (the David Thomas character), who founded a prison gang called the Black Guerrilla Family in order to deal with the white gangs he and other black prisoners faced. There's probably a very good movie to be made about the events, but it's something that's difficult to do because of the highly polarized nature of the story even 50 years after Jackson's death.

It would be all too easy to have the polemical nature of the story overwhelm the narrative of the film, and it's a trap that I think Brothers falls into at times. There are obvious points to be made about prison brutality, but sometimes they feel too obvious. It also felt to me as though the budget skimped on the screenplay, which is the weak part of the movie.

Brothers is definitely worth watching if you can find it, but it's also a flawed film.

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