The Movie Waffler Waffling With THE BROTHER Director Ryan Bonder | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With THE BROTHER Director Ryan Bonder

We chatted with the director of upcoming British thriller The Brother.

Interview by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

The use of London locations in The Brother (I’m thinking of the Christmas market on the Thames, the Tate gallery further up), are specifically evocative, as is the type of London underworld you depict. In contrast to most of the mid budget British crime films I’ve reviewed for The Movie Waffler, these criminals are refined ruffians, not cockney chancers. I wonder if you’d like to talk a bit more about how you set about creating this world, and what sort of research you engaged in while writing The Brother?

As a filmmaker, I’m not interested in exploring well trodden terrain. The cockney gangster has been well covered and it’s not a world I know or find interesting. Illegal arms dealing is a crime which requires a certain amount of intelligence to navigate the political circles you must exist in. It’s as much about connections and payoffs as it is about brute force. The point of interest is the morally grey world of arms dealing. You can go from being a legitimate arms dealer to a criminal by a simple shift in political winds. Friends become enemies and arms dealers become criminal. 

It’s a constant shifting moral landscape, and what interested me was what does it do to a person to exist in a world where the moral landscape is always moving? Over time, I think this could really fuck with someone’s head. For me, Adam is this person whose head has been fucked with and he’s desperate to extract himself from it, but also still drawn to it as it also allows him the release of anxiety and frustration.

I read a lot of articles about arms dealers. Basically anything I could get my hands on, I read. Often the most exciting part of working on a script is the research. 

Another of the The Brother’s idiosyncrasies is the use of Northern Soul on the soundtrack - as someone who has been keeping the faith since I was a little boy, I was thrilled! With a deaf dancer and the menacing use of a piano, music seems integral to The Brother - could you elaborate on how important it is to the themes and atmosphere of the film?

I am a Northern Soul fan as well. I think it’s under used, although there has been recent interest in it. I think it provided a nice contrast to the piano music. It’s uplifting and freeing, whereas the piano music is heavy and dark. The film plays a lot with contrasts and polarity; I guess I thought it would work well as a device.... that, and I just really love it!

Claire’s deafness was something that I have been interested in for a while. I was born deaf and only after years of operations was I able to hear. I think that experience really informed how I see the world. I have a really strong visual sense which probably came from not hearing for the first four years of my life so I guess I relied on making the world make sense visually - that and vibrations;  I used to love hugging the vacuum cleaner. Losing one sense sharpens all the others. The other element to her deafness was she was made deaf by being caught up in terrorist attack. These could have been people that Adam sold arms to, so I think it sort of holds a mirror up to him to the consequences of his actions. Also, by being French and deaf, she is also a sort of outsider in London. She is an outsider trying to navigate her way into a new way of living. Much like Adam, and this is where their connection comes from. I wanted to make a film about outsiders. Not sure why, but I find them interesting. 

The character of Adam is intriguing, an ex-arms dealer attempting to go straight and ostensibly escape the nefarious influences of his past and his family. Throughout the film, however, I got the distinct sense that, despite the traumatic flashbacks of dead children, Adam still missed the excitement of his old life. Is this an accurate reading? What was your entry point for such an intricate character and how did you go about writing Adam?

That’s not an easy question. I really don’t know where half the ideas I have come from but I like characters who are neither good nor bad. They are both. The violence for Adam is a release, ironically his safe spot. He knows it and it feels familiar. Making a change in one’s life is scary and difficult; most people go back to their default position of what they know. Also, again, working with the notion of contrast, Adam is pretty extreme in his contrasts and I think, there is this potential in all of us. We may not do the things he does but it’s all degrees of good and bad. We all have this potential and it all comes down to how we deal with it. In Adam’s case his family upbringing normalised violence and so it’s not nearly as shocking for him as it is for us. 

The idea for the script came very quickly, and somehow I just knew Adam and it came pretty easily. The first draft was written in a week. 

The dynamic between men and women is quite important in the film. Adam, his brother and his father all suffer the loss of Adam’s mother (as, we discover throughout the film, do other characters), while the characters of Tabitha and Claire hold the men in thrall. Could you comment a little more upon this aspect of The Brother?

Again, this works as a contrast. When we lose something early on - like a mother - there’s a huge hole to fill which probably can’t be replaced. It’s a disconnect from one of the most important relationships, a boy and his mother. This relationship will inform his relationships with other women. In Adam’s case, the loss had a massive impact on him, and like all else in his life, he’s drawn to a relationship that is dark and based on lust and hate. This creates a pretty big internal conflict for him, but he doesn’t know any other way. He hasn’t seen any other way so he has very little by way of understanding what drives this. Then he meets Claire and light comes in to his life, and he sees how even though she has been dealt a terrible hand, she’s positive and intent on moving forward. With her, he sees the possibility of a different life. 

I really engaged with your film Ryan, but it’s over to you now: in your own words, why should TMW readers take a chance on The

Much like peeling the layers of an onion, each layer provides a new level to the story and characters while retaining elements that will provide something for a wide ranging audience. The Brother is for anyone looking for the unexpected in a crime thriller. It’s intelligent, thoughtful and defies expectations.

The Brother is in cinemas September 16th.