Brothers Review


“Brothers,” a remake of a 2004 Danish film from director Susanne Bier, continues the trend started earlier this year with “The Hurt Locker” of solid war-themed movies that thankfully do not hinge on the viewer’s political beliefs. That’s not to say this is a pro-war film; it isn’t. However, the message here is universal: War changes people. And Jim Sheridan’s film hammers that home successfully, thanks in large part to a trio of great performances.

Sam and Tommy Cahill (Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal) are brothers who grew up with a strict military father (Sam Shepard). Sam followed in his father’s footsteps; he is a Marine captain who is about to return to Afghanistan for another tour of duty. He is also a good family man who adores his wife (Natalie Portman) and their two daughters. Tommy, on the other hand, is just being released from prison. Grace dislikes him, and his father is incredibly hard on him. He drinks and has little motivation to turn his life around.

Shortly after going to Afghanistan, Sam’s helicopter is shot down. He is taken prisoner but presumed dead by those in charge. Both Grace and Tommy are devastated by the news, but they find solace in one another. Grace is comforted being around her dead husband’s brother, while Tommy becomes a surrogate father to Sam and Grace’s daughters. Sam, meanwhile is tortured and forced to do horrific things for months before being rescued and returned home. Once reunited with his family, he is a shell of his former self, consumed with jealousy over the nature of Tommy and Grace’s relationship.

“Brothers” takes an incredibly broad subject and makes it personal. This is not the tale of a war, or even the after effects of a war, but of a family. Sheridan does not take the focus off of the Cahills, and with good reason. This is compelling group of flawed individuals and complicated relationships. The film has a message that is beyond the walls of the Cahill house, but it develops naturally and never seems forced.

The success of the narrative would have been wasted had the performances faltered, but luckily this does not happen. Tobey Maguire sheds his Spider-Man persona to offer a powerful and convincing portrayal of Sam. He doesn’t have much to do in the first half of the film, but as his captors torture him, his humanity slips away, and the person who comes back is not the same as the man who left. In fact, he can barely be considered a person at all, constantly berating his wife and children. This is a career best role for him and he makes the most out of the opportunity.

Jake Gyllenhaal has a more subtle role as Tommy. He also undergoes a change, albeit a less brutal one (from alcoholic ex-con to caring family man). It’s not as showy a performance as Maguire’s, but it’s just as effective. The best-in-show award, however, goes to Natalie Portman as the grieving wife Grace. Portman’s career has been a bumpy one (her performances in the Star Wars movies were cringe worthy), but here, she is tremendous, especially in the scenes after Sam returns. She is clearly torn between wanting the life she built with Sam to return and wanting to never see this person again, and Portman succeeds in portraying these conflicting emotions excellently.

If there is one fault with the film it is that the concept is not entirely groundbreaking and the message is not exactly new. But overall, Sheridan’s successes outweigh these problems. It hasn’t garnered the same awards buzz as some of its competitors in the marketplace right now, so I’m not too big on its Oscar chances. However, those involved should be proud of final product. It’s good stuff and definitely worth checking out.

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