Friday July 18, 1997
Tracing the concentric circles of modern urban hell, "A Brother's Kiss" offers pain without redemption and despair without a lot of root causes. So, like a lot of the life it portrays, its reason for being comes down to relationships.
And in Lex and Mick, the ill-fated brothers of Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's debut film--adapted and directed from his off-Broadway play of 1989--"A Brother's Kiss" has a near-classic pair of urban types, the kind originated in '30s crime drama and transplanted to late '70s East Harlem.
Here, the extroverted, streetwise Lex (played as a boy by Justin Pierce) plays adolescent father to his little brother, Mick (Joshua Danowsky), while their alcoholic mother, Doreen (Cathy Moriarty), offers herself and the kids' dinner to whatever itinerant male happens to be passing through the apartment. All too obviously, it's a tableau ripe for disaster.
Rosenfeld doesn't portray the family as unloving. Far from it. Doreen is a mess, but she shows flashes of maternity; Mick defends her to Lex, who in turn defends Mick to the point of felonious assault: One night in Central Park, he stabs a cop who is sodomizing Mick and is sent away. Life is irretrievably altered.
That it's Mick (played as an adult by Michael Raynor) who winds up joining the police force while Lex (Nick Chinlund) pursues his hopeless dream of a basketball career isn't an aspect of the story that's probed particularly deeply by Rosenfeld, who has Lex on the fast track to doom and keeps him there.
Always a just-say-no kind of guy (thanks to Mom's voracious thirst), Lex reacts to his dead-end job, his unsettling wife (Rosie Perez) and their child by succumbing to the drugs infecting their Harlem streets.
We've seen variations on this story before, but we may never have seen this particular city before: It's a New York movie that doesn't look like a New York movie because Rosenfeld uses locations that seldom get any screen time. No landmarks, just the picturesque sites of the upper-Upper East Side, where Lex's story arrives at its inevitable cul-de-sac.
Despite a bit of stiffness on the part of Rosenfeld, "A Brother's Kiss" does have two volatile, standout performances. Raynor probably has the less gratifying role as the controlled, internalized Mick, but Chinlund's Lex is a bravura turn, embracing all the fractured pride, humiliation and grief of a man whose dreams were never in his reach, who advertises his own strength but ends up crumbling--like any of the other street kids around him--when his life becomes its own burden. He saves Lex from stereotype, which is as much salvation as we're going to get here.
A Brother's Kiss, 1997. R for strong sexuality, pervasive strong language, drug use and violence. A film by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld, released by First Look Pictures. Director Seth Zvi Rosenfeld. Producers Bob Potter, E. Bennett Walsh. Executive producer Jim Walton. Screenplay by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld, based on his play. Cinematographer Fortunato Procopio. Editor Donna Stern. Costumes Carolyn Greco. Music supervisors Lynn Geller, Margot Core. Music Frank London. Production design Roger Fortune. Art director Rona Taylor. Set decorator Jim Lillis. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Nick Chinlund as Lex. Michael Raynor as Mick. Justin Pierce as Young Lex. Cathy Moriarty as Doreen. Joshua Danowsky as Young Mick. Rosie Perez as Debbie. Marisa Tomei as Missy.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times