Two Brothers

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There is probably no audience for “Two Brothers.” It might appeal to children, but it would be too slow-moving for them. Animal-loving adults might take interest, but they would find it overlong and bland every time humans appear onscreen. If its story were streamlined and some extraneous people-centric scenes cut, it would be a fine film indeed.

Instead, it is merely OK — tedious for long stretches, but lovely and guileless the rest of the time. Written and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who gave us the similarly themed “The Bear” (1988), it is set amid the religious ruins in the jungles of southeast Asia. Here two tiger cubs are born and, before they can grow up, separated from each other and their parents. One kitty is found by animal hunter Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce) and winds up in a circus. The other remains wild for some time before becoming the pet of an administrator’s little boy (Freddie Highmore, soon to be Charlie in the remake of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”), ultimately making his way to a private zoo owned by His Excellency (Oanh Nguyen). There he is made fierce, while his brother, sitting around in a circus cage, loses his edge altogether. They are eventually reunited, but I won’t tell you how.

Annaud’s achievement here, as in “The Bear,” is in conveying the animals’ thoughts without having them speak or introducing a narrator. The remote jungles of Asia — beautifully captured by cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou — could just as easily be the setting for a National Geographic nature special; the animals do not appear to be performing tricks or “acting” in any way. Of course, they ARE acting, because Annaud has a story to tell and needs them to behave a certain way for the cameras, and the fact that that isn’t obvious is part of the film’s wonderful charm.

The humans’ stories are far less interesting, and while Annaud earns points for not belaboring them — Guy Pearce gets a girlfriend almost behind our backs — he could have cut them down even more. It’s the tigers — natural, serene, playful and powerful — that have the power to fascinate us, not generic English imperial figures.

B- (1 hr., 45 min.; PG, some discreet tiger sex, some mild tiger-related violence.)

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