A mute black man from outer space (Joe Morton, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) crashlands his spaceship into the Hudson River, New York, and somehow ends up in Harlem. “The Brother” from another planet tries to make sense of this strange new environment as he is pursued by rival aliens who want to enslave him.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Incisive, perceptive, intelligent social satire, directed & written by John Sayles (Eight Men Out and Matewan) on a shoestring budget, with a sublime central performance by Joe Norton. Sayles’s main target is alienation (no pun intended) in urban life, but the filmmaker doesn’t stop there — there is more, much more here than meets the eye.
Sayles adds another layer to the story by placing the alien in the midst of Harlem, which is by all accounts a marginalized community. The immediate effect is quite powerful; it is as if he had placed a mirror in front of a mirror. Sayles touches upon everything from xenophobia and social inequality, to racial stereotypes and gender bias. Sayles doesn’t mock anyone; he’s simply pointing out society’s ills.
The Brother from Another Planet is constructed as a series of vignettes. Segments operate independently towards a common goal. Everything is done in tongue-in-cheek fashion. Comedy is always a great vehicle to shed light on serious issues. Sayles understands that humor tends to bring our defenses down, which is what needs to happen in order for any of us to accept an ugly truth. — we laugh because we recognize the absurdities of our lives.
Norton’s charming performance hooked me from the start. He projects curiosity and bewilderment without ever resorting to the obvious. Norton is like a black Buster Keaton — he conveys all sorts of emotion without barely moving a facial muscle. Sayles and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) play the “men in black.”
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Brother from Another Planet is a sort of throwback to the Preston Sturges comedies of yesterday. The movie works both as a comedy and as a an absurdist metaphor of urban life. Like Preston’s best movies, this film manages to say something important about human nature and society. It’s quite funny too. The humor is subtle, but clever. This is proof that you don’t need much of anything to make a really good movie. Highly recommended! Color, 105 minutes, Rated R.