Brother's Keeper (1992)

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Bill, Delbert, Roscoe and Lyman Ward, were four barely literate bachelor brothers, aged 59 to 71, living in squalor on their 99-acre dairy farm in Munnsville, a rural town in central New York. Then, on June 7, 1990, Delbert was arrested and signed a confession stating that he'd suffocated his brother Bill the previous night, in the bed they'd shared for decades. For 10 months thereafter, Delbert maintained his innocence, and the people of Munnsville rallied behind him.

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Critic Reviews for Brother's Keeper

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (3)

A discomforting, almost surreal study of a rural murder case, which offers fascinating insights about both family and community dynamics.

May 8, 2006 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Variety
Top Critic

...could be accused of exploiting the Wards except that the movie develops exploitation as one of its themes.

Apr 24, 2015 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

The excellent humanistic documentary is a rich slice of life piece of Americana.

Mar 15, 2011 | Rating: A | Full Review…

A stirring, emotionally complicated documentary with a timeless theme: murder.

Mar 9, 2004 | Rating: 4/5

documentaries truly can be as suspenseful and dramatic as any fictional narrative.

Feb 11, 2004 | Rating: A- | Full Review…

A wonderfully touching film filled with tension, heartache and amazing twists.

Jul 31, 2003 | Rating: A

Audience Reviews for Brother's Keeper

Incredible true story of a couple of aging brothers who never tied the knot and ended up living together in poverty in the golden years of their lives. Through strange circumstances, one brother was accused of killing the other but the truth is delightfully more cryptic than that.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

"Brother's Keeper" is an interesting documentary about an old man from the backwoods brought up on charges for murdering his elderly brother. Not sound of mind and living in dismal conditions with his remaining brothers, Delbert, a man who has never been very popular is bailed out of jail by several members of the community in his hometown of Munnville. As the court date grows closer, the town rallies more and more behind Delbert as the media becomes more prevalent in the case, bringing about some very eloquent speakers despite their down-home appearances. This documentary is a great frame of reference of where our justice system has fallen and brings to light questions about morality and ethics that we face in our society even today. Joe Berlinger starts off a profound career with this film, to later bring films like the "Paradise Lost" trilogy.

Christopher Haskell
Christopher Haskell

Super Reviewer

An outcast, illiterate farmer is accused of murdering his brother. This documentary is phenomenal in its ability to present this case objectively; as though I were a jury member, I oscillated between Delbert's guilt and innocence, and the film didn't lead me to a particular conclusion, save a few parts (for example, the brutal slaying of the pig made me think the documentarians were drawing a parallel between Delbert and the pig as sacrifices). Though it's not an agenda film, I think about how society creates outcasts after I watch this film, and though Delbert never rises to the status of a tragic hero in my view, there are several pathos-ridden scenes that enhance the film's dramatic effect, if not its implicit argument. Overall, this is a very good documentary about a very rare group of outcasts.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Typical documentaries are usually made to present facts, give the makers a chance to insert some subjective opinions of their own about a topic, then ends it with great objectivity as if nothing had happened. "Brother's Keeper" I think, is the first film of its kind that I've seen to allow a very humanist approach, concerned not mainly about hard facts of the crime case, but the indecipherable interior of its main participants: The mentally atrophied Ward brothers. One of them, Delbert, is initially accused of euthanizing his brother, Bill, by a killing process, which Delbert vaguely described as "hand-to-mouth". The case progresses, and so was the morbid 'what-if' theorizing, from the Ward brothers' homosexual tendencies, to Delbert having an incestuous relationship with the deceased Bill. In the middle of all of it, with the defense and prosecution each preparing for the courtroom battle, lies yet another conflict: The straightforward city investigators clashing indirectly with Munnsville townsfolk rallying behind Delbert Ward. With this content, uptown vs. country, a full-fledged murder, media intercepting in its full glory, this could have been made as a cross-over between a documentary feature and media satire, with the camera serving as the amoral observant. But I was quite surprised as how human this film is, juxtaposing the unnerving trial footage with the moody calm of the vast farmland of Munnsville, following and listening to the Ward brothers as they speak their minds, although incomprehensibly at times, without any sardonic, subconscial mocking. I have to give Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky a lot of credit, not just as documentarians carrying microphone on their hands and camera on their shoulders pointing and focusing to its unwary subject, but as urgent human beings, not there just to cyclically perform 'ask and hear', 'question and answer', but to 'listen and heed', 'immerse and absorb'. Seeing the Ward brothers in their tractor, waving goodbye, it's more than just a farewell; it's a genuine testament of an accomplished human interaction.

Ivan Descartin
Ivan Descartin

Super Reviewer

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