Brother's Keeper (DVD)
"A heartwarming tale of murder," reads Brother's Keeper's tagline, which would be hopelessly glib if it weren't largely the truth. A celebration of brotherly love in the form of a documentary about a possible mercy killing, the new-to-DVD 1992 film Brother's Keeper examines the lives of the four Ward brothers, who live and sleep together in a dilapidated shack in rural New York, eking out a meager living off the land. They're the kind of simple, mostly illiterate men folks refer to as boys–sometimes with a quiver of self-consciousness, sometimes not–even though they look like caricatures of grizzled old men. The fringe of the fringe, the Wards were mostly looked upon by their neighbors as harmless eccentrics until Delbert Ward was accused of suffocating his ailing older brother William. At that point, townsfolk rallied around Delbert, holding dances to raise money for him and defending his character to outside media interlopers like Connie Chung, who arrived at the Ward brothers' shack in a limousine. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's warmly affectionate directorial debut engenders an enormous amount of sympathy for the Wards (who were so smitten with their chroniclers that they named turkeys after them), but to their credit, the film is ambiguous about Delbert's ultimate guilt or innocence. One of Brother's Keeper's greatest strengths is that ambiguity, which makes it odd that the primary allure of the directors' audio commentary is that they finally give their opinion about whether Delbert was guilty of a crime–after showering praise on the Wards, the Wards' neighbors, and themselves. On that self-aggrandizing commentary, Berlinger and Sinofsky, who also directed the critically acclaimed Paradise Lost films, stop just short of handing each other homemade Nobel prizes for their contributions to film (even though, tellingly, Berlinger's misadventure directing Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 goes unmentioned). The Brother's Keeper DVD also includes a short film documenting the Wards' trip to visit the filmmakers, as well as a trailer starring Spalding Gray that features no footage from Brother's Keeper. Still, the hypnotic and humane film remains the main attraction: It explores, with mercy and compassion, the paradoxes inherent to the concept of mercy killing, a crime of love rather than hate.