As a film, the John Kerry Vietnam reminiscence Brothers In Arms has little to recommend it. A sterling example of how an unimaginative combination of interviews and archival footage can drain the life from even the most compelling topic, it feels padded at a mere 68 minutes. The film suggests a collaboration between raw footage and a documentary-making robot. It gets the job done, but without any unnecessary craft or personality.
In fact, Brothers In Arms comes from director Paul Alexander, a lauded biographer and journalist who seems to have become a filmmaker out of necessity. Born from research conducted for a Rolling Stone article on Kerry, Brothers consists almost entirely of interviews in which the members of Kerry's Vietnam patrol craft speak while positioned against a black background. Apart from the moments when they break down in tears, they assume the dry, distanced tone of many trauma survivors.
Their stories will sound familiar to anyone who watched the Democratic National Convention, and with good reason: Brothers In Arms openly seeks to remind everyone of John Kerry's war heroics just as the 2004 presidential election enters its final stretch. In most years, a documentary with such a narrow aim would seem excessive. After all, other boats have stories, even boats that never carried a future presidential candidate. But Brothers In Arms arrives with uncanny timing to counter the work of Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, a group whose claims that Kerry lied about his Vietnam experiences fell apart so quickly that the "truth" part of its name has a comedic ring.
Alexander probably saw this coming. Near the film's endshortly before endless footage of the senator beginning his presidential campaign while his old friends enjoy ice creamKerry's crewmates remember gathering against a similar attack in 1996. Brothers In Arms takes that response to a larger stage. It amounts to little more than a for-the-public-record collection of testimony from the men who really served with Kerry, as opposed to those who use the words "served with" interchangeably with "served in Vietnam at the same time as." Brothers In Arms is a dull, clumsy film, but politics have made it necessary.