Brother's Keeper (1992)

'Our objective in any interrogation is to solicit incriminating responses.'

Less infuriating than the later Joe Berlinger-Bruce Sinofsky Paradise Lost documentaries, because it ends with an acquittal rather than an obvious injustice, this is still a powerful portrait of an America the mainstream would like to wish away. In upstate New York, the four Ward 'boys', ageing bachelor brothers with low IQs, live together on a farm which is clearly barely surviving. When William, the ailing eldest, is found dead, Adelbert (Delbert), the brother who shares his bed, is questioned by local cops who at first assume a mercy-killing has been committed. As in Paradise Lost, a confused and childlike suspect appears to be schooled into giving a confession that oughtn't (and here doesn't) stand up in court. Later, as the community rallies round its own against the 'outsiders' (a politically-ambitious DA), the prosecution switches tack and tries to present an incest sex-gone-wrong scenario. Finally, a jury of Delbert's peers exonerates him.

The odd thing is that this is a mirror image of Paradise Lost, only here a rural community is irrationally convinced of either the innocence of the accused or that he ought to be let off for putting down a suffering man as he'd put down an injured cat. The sweet, slow, baffled and baffling Delbert seen in the film remains a mystery, and it's impossible to say what actually happened to his brother - though the filmmakers seem to veer towards the natural death argument. The point of the film is to show the milieu: Delbert's description of the cell he was kept in is pointedly contrasted with the camera's roaming around the brothers' decrepit house (which could hardly be much better than a prison) and the illiteracy, toothlessness, poverty and slowness of the brothers and many of their neighbours is a clear sign that they have been failed by their society. It is a corrective to the vision of rural hell found in Deliverance, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Mother's Day - finding sadness rather than sleaze in these dead-ended lives, with the possibility of inbred violence or sexuality raised but not in the minatory horror movie manner that might be expected.

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