A character-driven family drama about redemption and the work ethic, "Brother's Shadow" has an unsteady sense of place, but its breadth and depth of personality could make it a hit among auds in search of solid emotional content and characters that feel real. Theatrical dates seem likely, especially given the merits of the cast, and cable play is a certainty.
Movies that feature a character who has a skill -- in the case of "Brother's Shadow," cabinetry -- have a leg up in characterization because of what the character says about himself through the practice of his craft. Jake Groden (Scott Cohen) may have spent 14 years in prison and may be an alcoholic with a hot temper who is alienated from his family, but when he applies a tool to wood, we forgive him his sins.
When Jake arrives home for his sainted twin brother's funeral, he finds his sister-in-law (Susan Floyd) ready to sell the family shop, his teenage nephew Adam (Elliot Korte) on the verge of self-destruction and his father (Judd Hirsch) as miserable and unforgiving as ever.
Despite high production values, "Brother's Shadow" has an all-too-tidy visual tone and a disorienting geography -- perhaps because the exterior of the Groden furniture company was shot in Hoboken, N.J., the interior in Staten Island and the upstairs apartment in Brooklyn. Similarly, director Todd S. Yellin and co-scripter Ivan Krim let their story wander, compressing some action for convenience but consequently creating dramatic gaps.
Happily "Brother's Shadow" doesn't end up as predictable as you think it will, despite a set-up that includes a prodigal brother, an attractive widow and a kid in need of a father figure.
Cohen is first-rate, as is Hirsch, whose character is a convincing ex-drinker who has rediscovered his Jewish roots and wants to take everyone else along on the tour. Floyd has perhaps the most difficult role as Emily, a conflicted woman who is trying to reconcile her husband's death, her attraction to his look-alike brother and the improbability of balancing such an awkward romance with sudden single motherhood. She does a splendid job, as does Ruben Santiago-Hudson, as Jake's parole officer whose efforts to balance compassion and tough love contribute to Jake's recovery as well as his troubles.
Camera (Deluxe color, 35mm-to-HD), Kip Bogdahn; editor, Suzanne Spangler; music, Duncan Sheik; production designer, Ethan Tobman; set decorator, Amanda Carroll; costume designer, Eden Miller; sound (Dolby Digital), Lon Bender, Glynna Grimala; associate producers, Vartkes Cholakian, Jennifer Copaken, Robert Bethge; assistant director, Michael A. Moffa; casting Louis Digiamo. Reviewed on DVD, May 4, 2006. (In Tribeca Film Festival.) Running time: 89 MIN.