Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire
Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins
Release Date: December 4, 2009
PLOT: A marine (Maguire) returns home from war only to have anxieties about the loved ones around him (Portman and Gyllenhaal).
WHO’S IT FOR?: This heavy modern drama could be a pretty difficult watch for some, especially those who are personally connected with someone serving overseas. Though using a cast of relatively young actors, the film’s speed and tone is catered towards mature audiences.
EXPECTATIONS: With its flash-cut editing and unraveling of what felt like the whole movie, Brothers has the worst trailer of 2009. I was hoping the film wouldn’t be an intense melodramatic mess, as made out to be by the almost laughable ad. At the very least, I was glad Hollywood had finally done something with the very brotherly appearances of Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Tommy Cahill: Compared to his co-stars, he has the least demanding emotional role of the three. But by no means does Gyllenhaal slack behind them, as he dutifully carries his own emotional weight. The Brokeback Mountain actor maintains the complexities of his character who fights for the ability to be loved, all while keeping the grime that makes us so hesitant to forgive him for a past that is occasionally alluded to.
Natalie Portman as Grace Cahill: Portman advances her capabilities as an actress to a level that is especially adult while playing the wife of Maguire’s Cahill. Her tender character is a mother taken straight from reality whose grief is hard hitting – she’s an excellent griever. Her name is also that of a somewhat new U2 song. Could this be a coincidence, or is director Sheridan giving the little band from Ireland another plug?
Tobey Maguire as Capt. Sam Cahill: Sheridan never needs flashbacks to remind us why Maguire’s character is so fragile, as the painful history of this ferocious walking skeleton is seen with his cold glare and regimented body movements. Maguire does an excellent job in portraying the intensities of being a POW, especially even after such horrific moments are in the past and across the sea. As we watch him struggle to reconnect with his family while forcing his demons to stay inside his mind, Sam becomes the kind of magnetic beast we only get to witness when great acting is involved.
TALKING: The line “You know what I did?!” which looks Razzie-worthy in the trailer, is actually pretty effective in the final product. Aside from that, there’s a few cuss words, and the emotional moments are spared cheesy dialogue.
SIGHTS: The film is very consciously artful to have match cuts that turn certain moments of the story into a giant house of mirrors, which helps make the intersecting stories of this family even more compelling. The overall balance of Brothers, which has Gyllenhaal and Portman having family fun while Maguire battles hell overseas, is disrupted by some awkwardly placed scenes. When trying to navigate between such drastically different scenarios, the editing tends to make a turn of tone so quick it’s almost comical.
SOUNDS: Accomplished composer Thomas Newman dumps some really cheesy music in the aforementioned montages that are already bad. U2 has a song, “Winter,” that plays during the credits, but it’s pretty forgettable and not complimentary to the mood that Brothers leaves us with.
BEST SCENE: The moment where Capt. Sam Cahill is forced to do the action that leaves him so scarred before he returns to America. It’s difficult to watch, but all the more indicative of Maguire’s acting talent.
ENDING: Finally, what has been needed to be said has been revealed. A cut to black that might catch the audience off guard, but the final moments offer enough closure.
REWATCHABILITY: The story’s events are a bit emotionally exhausting, but the performances make for a rewarding viewing. I may not be running out to see this again, but I am certainly interested how the original 2004 Danish film, Brodre, compares.
Irish auteur Jim Sheridan has dropped on American audiences a difficult albeit simple story, about a marine returning from war. Brothers swells with a POW’s caged rage until at the last minute when second chances are in order (no, the movie is not about Tommy stealing Sam’s wife). It has title characters whose actions are wonderfully reflective of one another, something that gives them and their film more layers of subtext than just Jake and Tobey looking similar.
The film’s best feature is probably its performances, which has notable actors working together with great chemistry to create something emotionally challenging. Even Grace’s children are able to contribute a pain that can be none other than unfortunately real for some. As pointed out by other great veteran films, PTSD can be as challenging an enemy as the war’s opposing forces. In the case of Brothers, family can be our best ally in winning the battle that wages within.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10