The Brother is an alien who has crash-landed on Earth, in New York City. While mute, strongly empathic, and able to fix things, he resembles a Black man with strange feet. His attempt to make a place for himself in Harlem is an allegory for the immigrant experience in the United States. Meanwhile, two bounty hunters from the Brother's home planet arrive and try to capture him.
Directed by: John Sayles
. Starring: Joe Morton
, Rosanna Carter
, Ray Ramirez
, Yves Rene
, Peter Richardson
, Ginny Yang
, Daryl Edwards
, Steve James
, Leonard Jackson
, Bill Cobbs
, Maggie Renzi
, Olga Merediz
, Tom Wright
. Music by: Martin Brody
, Mason Daring
It's great to see this odd and remarkable film finally getting a worthwhile DVD release. BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET is among the few John Sayles films I've seen, and watching it again makes me want to check out what else I might have missed.
Blending sly topical humor with science fiction, BROTHER FROM... superficially resembles ALPHAVILLE or MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH as it explores various themes: assimilation, perception and identity; and technology and control; along with less abstract but equally serious issues like drug abuse and urban despair. This fantastic film is notable for its' dry humor and complex observation of urban problems, and is also notable for Joe Morton's astonishing, expressive performance in a mute role, which - though helped by Morton's theatrical training and his overall attractiveness - still has to be seen to be believed.
Crash landing his tiny space ship in Harlem, our silent hero tries to make sense of his surroundings, moving from fear and puzzlement to relative comfort. Because of his dark skin, certain assumptions are instantly made of him, even as his silence gives no one anything to hang a stereotype on. It quickly becomes apparent that 'he ain't from around here.' The edgy humor turns on this (pay attention for great spoof quotes from TERMINATOR and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADREBLAZING SADDLES) - not so p.c. at the surface, but still broad-minded and intelligently observational, with an intriguing viewpoint - that of a very disoriented immigrant dropped into the American subculture he's expected to most easily fit into. Simultaneously, his quiet and graceful manner of dealing with the world around him implies an unquestionable conviction that every human ought to be considered with some kind of respect and dignity, even as day-to-day realities might necessarily modify this ideal (another of the key themes here).
A short subplot involving a nightclub singer touches vaguely upon Harlem's celebrated past, making apparent Sayles' belief in the contemporary value of history, and his awareness of the importance of context even in a fantastical story. Likewise, a second subplot - though a tad clumsy - deals with Harlem's more recent history - a struggle to survive and preserve identity through an avalanche of drugs, potential violence and despair.
As a runaway slave from another world, themes of technology, surveillance and control (shown in the eyeballflashback scenes, and the great capture scene near the end) are also introduced, even as Sayles' references African-American history at unexpected moments throughout ("My people built this country. Ever heard of South Carolina?...") - implying to a degree that technology can easily be manipulated to make slaves of us all, or at least that technology hold the potential to divorce us from our history.
With all of the varied themes and subplots, BROTHER FROM... could've easily become overloaded or didactic, but Sayles' loose stylishness and light touch as a director (along with the skill of the cast) makes it all work well, even with a very modest budget and a tight shooting schedule. The cinematography throughout is remarkable - lots of long takes, with characters woven into the fabric of everyday life. The pacing is slow and methodical (Sayles is always very meticulous in developing plot and characters), but never dull.
This is a great film - below a hip and ironic surface, the covert intellect and graceful sweetness of this film links its' numerous themes into a seamless and unique fantasyparable. This cult classic from the mid-80s deserved a wider audience at the time, and still does - I strongly recommend it.
Review by David from the Internet Movie Database.