Brother Number One

Review: Brother Number One

By Cleo
14 Mar 12

Cleo Withers

For a heart-wrenching but strangely optimistic experience, go to this film. It is superbly made, and almost faultless, a compelling story that informs while it engages. The story of Kerry Hamill, the young hippie sailor off on his OE with his mates, who sails into the clutches of the Khmer Rouge forms one journey, while the contemporary tale of Kerry's youngest brother Rob ("the rower") traveling to Cambodia exactly 31 years since Kerry's torture and murder, another. Still another is that of Cambodia, a beautiful country pulled into the vortex of the Vietnam War period.

Annie Goldson interweaves these three stories into a seamless whole that is both shocking but uplifting - it helps us understand. The personal story of the Hamill family - good-looking, outdoorsy, small town - becomes a nutshell of a whole country. If this is what they went through, imagine what it must have been like for Cambodia? As this question is asked, and Rob is gracious and seemingly unbitter enough to ask it, it is answered by the film's incorporation of the stories and voices of those who "naturally" appear in the film, as translators, survivors who may have met Kerry or even perpetrators, some of whom were child soldiers at the time of the genocide.

Rob has a commanding screen presence, a combination of Kiwi blokeish-ness and emotional vulnerability, which I, as a Kiwi woman, find really appealing - and I suspect Kiwi men would too. In appearing in war crimes tribunal which is trying 5 former Khmer Rouge for the murder of 2 million, Rob is on the world stage. Despite his evident strength and endurance (rowing the Atlantic was no small feat I'm sure), you can tell this is a real challenge. As Graeme Tuckett on National Radio too, says "Just go and see it . . it's a film full of empathy and compassion . . . I couldn't admire it more". I agree.