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review added: 2/6/01



The Brothers McMullen
1995 (2000) - 20th Century Fox

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Brothers McMullen Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B+

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Edward Burns, theatrical trailer, scene access (20 chapters), film-themed menu screens, languages: English (DD 2.0 & mono), French (mono), subtitles: English, Spanish, Closed Captioned


"I don't need any new ideas. I'm confused enough."

How's this for a movie pitch? Three Irish Catholic brothers find themselves sharing the same roof due to a myriad of circumstances. The oldest is happily married to a woman he dearly loves, but he's tempted to cheat. The youngest one is a devout Catholic dating a Jewish girl and getting a serious case of guilt. And the middle one is the most cynical about love, even after he falls in love.

The Brothers McMullen works, man. That's not to say it's the greatest film ever made, but for a $24,000 film made by unpaid actors, many of whom had never stepped in front of a camera before, the film is surprisingly refreshing. Essentially, the film is a morality play. Each of the brothers is trying to figure out how to do the right thing in their own fractured ways, and that makes them real. The acting is sometimes sub-par, and sometimes stellar. Ed Burns, who also wrote and directed, stands out, but that would only make sense.

The true salvation is the script. It slowly picks up steam, scoring some witty points here and there, and finally has you buying the payoffs at the end. It's slow going in the beginning, but it works. Anybody could nit-pick The Brothers McMullen apart. But this film was made guerrilla style, on a non-existent budget... and it shines. No wonder it won Best Film at Sundance.

On the presentation side, it's hard to judge the video transfer on this DVD due to the shabby print used. Grain is all over the place and print defects abound. The image is soft and sometimes muddy. But, to be honest, I couldn't care less. The movie was originally shot on any 16mm film stock Burns could get his hands on, so just having the image in reasonable quality is a blessing. It was common for the crew to use only the available daylight to shoot, with quick and primitive camera set-ups. Hell... the dolly they used was a piece of plywood with skateboard wheels. Given that Fox put it on 35mm film for theatrical release, and then gave us anamorphic widescreen on DVD, helps one to forgive many of the defects. In short, the disc's image is hard to bash despite the poor video quality relatively speaking. The flip side of the disc also holds a weak panned and scanned version, that only further exacerbates the framing issues. Our suggestion - skip the P&S side.

The audio, presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, is nondescript. Once again, this is a zero budget film. More often than not, the only sound on the track is the dialog with a modest Irish score. Spatial effects? Nada. Heavy bass? Why would there be? To tell the truth, it's not a bad piece of audio... it's just not an audio-intensive film. In fact, it's the opposite of audio-intensive.

As for the extras, we have a theatrical trailer, which is standard, but it's joined by a very cool little commentary track. Ed Burns speaks almost the whole time, and his story is really engaging. After watching the film originally, I was a bit disappointed by some of the quality issues. But when I listened to Burns, I got a whole new appreciation for how the film was made. For example, the crew snuck into a cemetery rather than get a permit to film there. They hid the camera under a coat to get subway shots. They paid their actors nothing, and used the on-set food from Burns' mother as set props in the film. Cheap is the word here, but Burns gives great insight on how they conquered these obstacles. When all is said and done, this turns out to be one of the best commentaries I've heard in a long time.

So put down that Godzilla disc. Sure, it may be loaded, but the film still sucks. Go get yourself a copy of The Brothers McMullen and maybe... just maybe... you'll gain an appreciation for the true ART and love of filmmaking.

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com


The Brothers McMullen


Stories From Long Island (Ed Burns 3-disc set)


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