Monday, December 7, 2009

Movie Review: Brothers

Brothers ***
Directed By:
Jim Sheridan.
Written By: David Benioff based on the movie written by Susanne Bier & Anders Thomas Jensen.
Starring: Natalie Portman (Grace Cahill), Tobey Maguire (Capt. Sam Cahill), Jake Gyllenhaal (Tommy Cahill), Clifton Collins Jr. (Major Cavazos), Bailee Madison (Isabelle Cahill), Sam Shepard (Hank Cahill), Mare Winningham (Elsie Cahill), Taylor Geare (Maggie Cahill), Patrick Flueger (Private Joe Willis), Carey Mulligan (Cassie Willis).

Sam (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) are brothers, although they share little in common. Sam has married his high school sweetheart Grace (Natalie Portman), had two beautiful daughters, Isabelle and Maggie, got a house and joined the army, where he has risen to the rank of Captain. He has already done one tour of duty in Afghanistan and is now set to return again. Tommy on the other hand has lived a life of petty crime, and on the eve of his brothers departure, he is released from jail. Grace doesn’t like Tommy very much, and he is a disappointment to his father, the Vietnam vet Hank (Sam Shepherd), who is constantly telling Tommy to be more like his brother. But Sam sticks up for Tommy to everyone. He is his brother, and we get the sense their childhood was not a happy one. All they had were each other, and Sam cannot just leave Tommy behind.

But then Sam’s helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan, and he is presumed dead. The news hits home hard for everyone involved, and Tommy starts to realize that he has wasted his life. He starts coming around the house more, becoming a father figure for the girls, and a source of support for Grace. Even Hank starts to warm up to him a little bit. We know that Sam isn’t dead – he has been taken prisoner along with a Private under his command, and held at some training base for the Taliban, but to everyone at home, Sam is dead. Life goes on, even if he has left a huge hole in the family.

Jim Sheridan’s Brothers is based on a Danish film of the same name from 2004. That film, directed by Susanne Bier, was an emotional powerhouse, and featured the best performance of Connie Nielson’s career, as she is torn between the two brothers. Perhaps because my memory of that film was so strong, this one didn’t hit me with as much power as that one did. Sheridan is a fine filmmaker, and does a wonderful job with this film, and the performances are also top notch. Portman is mature beyond her years as the woman who has had her world crushed, slowly tries to rebuild it, only to have it crushed again when Sam returns, and begin the process all over again. It is one of her best performances. Gyllenhaal would not have been my choice to play a “bad boy”, as he always struck me as more of a wounded puppy dog, but he delivers a fine performance as Tommy, the irresponsible brother who learns to be a part of a family, then doesn’t know he place anymore. Maguire is more erratic as Sam – powerful in the scenes in Afghanistan as a prisoner, but perhaps he overdoes it a little too much when he returns. Still it is a fine performance by an real actor, who has seemingly had his career put on hold while he plays Spider-Man.

There really is nothing wrong with the movie. While it doesn’t pack the same punch as the original did, it still does pack an emotional wallop. Most audiences in North American will have never have heard of the original film, let alone seen it, so I suspect that audiences are going to like the film more than I did. I found a lot to admire in this film, so I still recommend it, but for those of you who have seen the original, this one just isn’t quite at that level. Few films are.

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