Brother's Keeper

The Year's Best Documentary is now expanding its release after winning deserved awards from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review. Produced, directed, edited and distributed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the film is a hypnotic look at a 1991 murder trial in rural New York. Delbert, Lyman, Bill and Roscoe Ward were illiterate bachelor brothers, then ranging in age from fifty-nine to seventy-one. Reclusive eccentrics living in a two-room shack on a dairy farm, the "Ward boys" attracted little notice until Bill was found dead in the bed he shared with Delbert. Did he die naturally? Did Delbert mercifully smother his sickly brother? Or did semen stains indicate an incestuous sex crime?

The media circled the case in search of sensation. But Berlinger and Sinofsky take no cheap shots. Their evenhanded approach creates a stunning and evocative portrait of the Ward brothers and what turns out to be the surprisingly supportive community they live in. Brother's Keeper has the texture, emotion and raw urgency of a Woody Guthrie anthem -- it keeps coming back to haunt you.

From The Archives Issue 649: February 4, 1993
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