For many of us, it’s hard to get a handle on what it means to struggle with PTSD, but Manns Mackie Studio’s new film, My Brother’s Keeper does a good job of helping audiences get a better understanding of how it effects people. The disorder can cause all kinds of havoc changing one’s personality in an instant. For Ty Manns, President and CEO of the studio, the film was a personal project. In part it shares his own father’s battle with PTSD. But the film is more that.
“We are realizing that, as we are starting to resume life after the pandemic, struggles with issues of faith, fear, depression, and PTSD go far beyond the military,” says Manns who also wrote the screenplay. “We pray that My Brother’s Keeper will help families realize that help is available, and that they do not have to suffer alone.”
Ultimately, that’s what this film does, but it takes a while to get there. It’s pretty rough in the beginning, but if you can stick with it, you’ll appreciate the payoff in the end.
While they are often scoffed at, making faith-based films is a tough job. Budgets are tight, good actors are hard to find and the faith content can be difficult to get right. Every Christian shown is happy, smiling and praising the good Lord above for his many blessings. Often the lines that are spoken in earnest comes off as cliché or stereotypical jargon. I’m convinced that some writers write dialogue not in a way that people actually talk but in a way that they think they should talk. Oftentimes, the filmmakers seem to be driven to make sure that audience knows that they are watching a faith-based film at all times.
My Brother’s Keeper falls into some of these traps for the first fifteen minutes or so. Right off the bat, there is a meaningful conversation between two soldiers on their sixth combat deployment together, but the film gives no build up for this conversation. We have no idea who these characters are of what they’ve been through. It feels rushed and that perhaps there were a scene or two that came before it that got scrapped at the last minute. The scene itself between Travis Fox (TC Stallings) and “Preach” (Joey Lawrence) is actually done well, but just too heavy of a scene to start out with.
From there, the story moves to a church service where all those happy, shiny people attend. Tiffany Robertson (Keshia Knight-Pulliam) is one of those people. She runs a support group at the church, but the building that they meet in is in terrible shape. She reminds Pastor Hood (Jeff Rose) of the situation and he assures her that they can talk about it at a later time.
We learn that this small town is also Travis’ hometown and this is where he has chosen to spend some time away from the battlefield. His parents are no longer living having died in a seemingly normal car crash years earlier, but Travis is convinced something more sinister happened and is there to get some answers. While in town, he makes a stop at “Pops” coffee shop. Pops (Gregory Alan Williams) is a family friend and his son, Donnie (Robert Ri’chard) is Travis’ best friend.
It is about this point when Keven Otto, the director of the film, began to relax a bit and let the actors tell the story in a more believable way. We learn that Donnie isn’t as squeaky clean as he tries to let on. He’s in trouble with some hoodlum named Big Six (Blue Kimble) owing him money. Meanwhile, Pastor Hood hears that Travis is in town and along with Tiffany, asks if Travis can help with renovation of the meeting space for the support group. Travis isn’t interested. However, Tiffany follows up with Travis later and he eventually agrees and a friendship develops.
Things are going fairly smoothly when out of the blue, Travis begins to have episodes of trauma that disrupt his life. He is haunted by thoughts of guilt, anger with God and thoughts of suicide. It almost sounds morbid to say so, but this is where the story really starts to shine. The actors’ lines no longer fit into the traditional Christian film mold. Yes, there is still some preachiness, but now it feel appropriate to the story.
All in all, My Brother’s Keeper is a good movie with a good message. A little more editing could have made it great. The film doesn’t feature a lot of humor and that is for the best since humor is hard to write. However, one character in the story is meant to be a comedic device that falls flat. His character sounds like an old country bumpkin who likes to recite old country sayings that no one has ever heard of. His character is so out of place and unbelievable that he takes you out of movie experience and that’s a shame.
On the other hand, the lead characters are very good and believable. For instance, portraying a pastor can be tough for anyone to play, but Rose does a great job making the character seem like a real person. Stallings does an incredible job of “losing it” when he needs to. In one of those episodes, Knight-Pulliam’s Tiffany holds her own telling Travis what he doesn’t want to hear, but need to.
While the film ends on a positive note, it’s not perfect. Travis still has issues to deal with. Just like the rest of us. The problems don’t just go away when the credits roll.
Main Image: Donnie (Robert Ri’chard) and Travis Fox (TC Stallings) (Manns Mackie Studio)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.