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Brother's Keeper (1992)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary, Crime, Mystery  |  9 September 1992 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 2,730 users  
Reviews: 24 user | 22 critic

This documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky details the murder trial of Delbert Ward. Delbert was a member of a family of four elderly brothers, working as semi-literate farmers ... See full summary »

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Cast overview:
Delbert Ward ...
Roscoe Ward ...
Lyman Ward ...
Walt Geisler ...
Himself - Ward Supporter
Ken Elmer ...
Himself - Neighbor
John Teeple ...
Himself - Neighbor
Dave Goff ...
Himself - Cousin
Joseph F. Loszynski ...
Himself - Bureau of Criminal Investigation, New York State Police (as Captain Joseph F. Loszynski)
Harry Thurston ...
Himself - Friend
Ralph A. Cognetti ...
Himself - Defense Attorney
Maynard A. Cosnett ...
Himself - Bureau of Criminal Investigation, New York State Police (as Investigator Maynard A. Cosnett)
John W. Graham ...
Himself - Bureau of Criminal Investigation, New York State Police (as Investigator John W. Graham)
Robert J. Killough ...
Himself - Bureau of Criminal Investigation, New York State Police (as Investigator Robert J. Killough)
Donald F. Cerio ...
Himself - Madison County District Attorney


This documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky details the murder trial of Delbert Ward. Delbert was a member of a family of four elderly brothers, working as semi-literate farmers and living together in isolation from the rest of society until William's death. A police investigation and Medical Examiner's autopsy suggested that Bill may not have died from natural causes and Delbert was arrested on charges of Second-Degree Murder. Under questioning by police, Delbert appears to have waived his rights and signed a confession, but this film suggests that he may not have been competent to do so. The film explores possible motives for the crime, from 'mercy-killing' (Bill was ill at the time) to progressively more bizarre hypotheses. It also shows how residents of the rural community of Munnsville, NY rallied to the support of one of their own residents (previously considered a social outcast), against what they felt were intrusive 'big-city' police and District Attorney tactics. Written by Tad Dibbern <>

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Release Date:

9 September 1992 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Fylakas tou adelfou mou  »

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$1,305,915 (USA)

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Did You Know?


Picked by Entertainment Weekly magazine as one of the "50 Greatest Independent Films" in a special supplement devoted to independent films that was only distributed to subscribers in October 1997. See more »

Crazy Credits

Flash, the editing room dog. See more »


Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Brute Man (1996) See more »

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User Reviews

22 October 2004 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

In a simple way this is just an "us and them" story, with the hardworking small town folk being treated like buffoons by the big, mean, well-groomed city justice people. But Berlinger and Sinofsky are far more talented than that, and their film ends up being one of the most human films I've ever seen in terms of their generosity to their subjects. It's generous because they don't put their views into the film, they don't decide how we should view the allegations, but at the same time don't restrict themselves from becoming somewhat involved in these brothers' lives.

At first we're inclined to look down on these brothers -- they rarely bathe, they're not educated, they can hardly hear what the documentarians say to them. They're completely unselfconscious. Our natural reaction is to place ourselves above them. But the filmmakers' greatness is in how within about half an hour we find ourselves connected to them as equals. In fact, we notice how philosophical they can be, maybe without realizing it -- without being treated like simpleminded saints. The directors give us a view of the townspeople, too, the Ward brother supporters, many of which are quite articulate themselves. (One elderly gentleman, a hard man from the outside, is surprisingly forward-thinking, when it's speculated that the brothers may have had an incestuous relationship, and he uses the word "gay" rather than the expected offensive term, and refers to the justice people as "narrow minded," and how whatever kind of relationship the bothers had, sexual or not, it should not have any bearing on the case.) There's one startling description of the brothers' love for one another, that if indeed one of the brothers did kill the other, it was in the same way he would have killed a sick and dying cow, paralyzed after giving birth. (There's one horrifying scene where a pig is killed that isn't quite as lovely.)

The communal, familial way in which the filmmakers interact with the brothers is exactly the same way these townspeople interact with one another. The construction of the film is just perfect for the entire film. It's uncomfortable without being cruel, it's friendly without being cloying, it's dark and disturbing without seeming phony. When joyful fiddle music plays after a scene, it's never mocking the way it would be in another film. (And one of the greatest scenes in the film is an image of a ragged man with his cows, and some very, very haunting violin music by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, whose entire score is outstanding, and anticipates "Fargo.") When the trial takes place, we're implicated because we don't know the truth. By this point we're so invested in these brothers that when one of them is on the bench, shaking and terrified from nervousness -- these brothers just don't have this kind of human contact -- the filmmakers have completely earned our tears. It's not a sentimental moment, it's as horrifying as the scene of the pig being killed. You feel as if the judicial system is raping this man of his dignity. This is a masterpiece. 10/10

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