My Brother's Keeper

Distributed By: New Video Group

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            There are times when someone recommends a movie to you that you otherwise may never have watched.  The other day, a co-worker brought in a documentary and told me that this was a movie I simply had to see.  Listening to his description of the film, I wasnít too sure I wanted to watch it, but knowing my co-worker and his taste in movies, I figured I could do worse than to check this one out.  When I got home, I popped My Brotherís Keeper into the DVD player.  Immediately, I noticed that this film had aired on IFC, the Independent Film Channel.  I used to have this channel when I purchased cable from another company and I remember quite a few independent films that I had watched on IFC and truly enjoyed.  Hmmm, I thought, maybe this movie wonít be so bad after all.

            My Brotherís Keeper is a documentary directed and produced by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger in 1992 about a simple-minded farmer from Munnsville, New York, accused of murdering his brother in his sleep.  Although all evidence pointed to the fact that Bill Ward had died of natural causes, for some reason Delbert Ward was arrested for his brotherís murder.  His signed confession seemed to seal his fate, but the New York State Police and the District Attorney were ill-prepared for what happened next.  The District Attorney first painted a picture of a mercy killing, citing that Bill Ward had been very sick for some time and his brother only wanted to put him out of his misery, like he would a sick farm animal.  Later, the District Attorney took on a different tactic, creating a picture of an incestual relationship gone bad, something that no one in the town could accept as being true.

            The tiny farming community of Munnsville took up for Delbert Ward.  They explained that the Wards were a well-known farming family made up of four simple elderly men.  The Wards lived in the same shack they had been born in Ė a shack with no running water, no heat, no real doors or windows, containing one bed for the four brothers to sleep in.  The Ward brothers were a simple, kind-hearted folk who mostly kept to themselves, but it was clear to the community at large that these brothers loved each other too much for one to have murdered the other.  Thus, the community gathered around the remaining Wards, collecting money for Delbertís bail and for a defense attorney.

            As the movie began, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  The directors of My Brotherís Keeper first focused on the remaining Ward brothers Ė Delbert, Roscoe and Lyman.  Short interviews with the brothers and a look at the environment in which they lived gave me pause.  After all, this movie was only filmed a decade and a half ago and these folks lived like 18th Century farmers.  They were so simple-minded that they often couldnít understand the questions the directors of the film were asking.  It was hard to believe that folks could live and survive the way that the Wards did in this day and age.

            However, once the film began to delve into the case more deeply and we began to hear from community members and the Wards about the case, I became more interested in the film.  After a while, I became completely engrossed.  By the end of the film, I found myself captivated, wondering just what the juryís findings would be at the murder trial.

            My Brotherís Keeper does an excellent job in portraying all sides of the story.  By interviewing all parties involved in the case, the documentary attempts to portray events objectively, thus giving viewers an opportunity to decide whether or not Delbert is guilty of killing his brother.  I found the Ward brothers to be so simple-minded and so loveable that I could never have believed Delbert had committed murder.  At first, I thought maybe this was a mercy killing, but after learning the evidence collected for the case, I began to find the case to be a tad bit fishy.

            I have to say that my co-worker was right Ė this was one movie I simply had to see.  My Brotherís Keeper is a very well-done documentary that I would recommend to anyone interested in crime stories.  This is a truly captivating real life drama set in a rural town in New York.  My Brotherís Keeper is definitely tops on my list of documentary films.  Check it out and decide for yourself Ė did Delbert Ward kill his brother or was he set up to take the fall for a crime he didnít commit?

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