Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini


Brothers (2009)

Brothers (2009)
Starring:
Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Clifton Collins, Jr.


Rated: R language and some disturbing violent content
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: December 4, 2009 Released by: Lions Gate Films

Brothers is the contemporary story of a soldier returning from Afghanistan to domestic issues has strong female appeal. It may also resonate more for the less frequent filmgoer (and TV watcher) who hasn't seen its trailer.

Academy-Award nominated helmer Jim Sheridan's often emotional and tense drama is drawn from Susanne Bier's 2005 Danish (Brothers) and features young Hollywood stars Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman.

This flawed, if intelligent remake centers on the story of a young man (Gyllenhaal) who comforts his older brother's wife (Portman) after he goes missing and is presumed dead in Afghanistan.

Sheridan (Get Rich or Die Tryin, My Left Foot) and his screenwriter David Benioff (The Kite Runner) have the feelers out for a timely melodrama, a kind of early 21st century update of precious films that accounted for strife in the Vietnam War era.

While Bier's arguably contrived nature seeps into this potential awards contender, this adaptation may have too much of a Hollywood sheen about it and could have used more cynicism and complexity to it, especially on the narrative side.

The film begins from a 2007 voice-over as Maguire's decorated Marine Capt. Sam Cahill is days from his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan that leaves his family - wife Grace (Portman) and two different young children Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare) - upset.

Sam retrieves younger brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal), a kind of ne'er-do-well and wayward fellow from time in prison for armed robbery. They're established as opposites with the pariah in Tommy looking unfavorably at the military with the arrogance from their retired marine father Hank (Sam Shepard).

The Cahill family begin to cope with the worst when Sam's Black Hawk helicopter is grounded by Taliban forces. An empowered Tommy is instrumental in this process with Grace and the girls seeing him in a more illumating way. Grace, who use to be a cheerleader, and Tommy begin to bond in ways they can't deny is good for them, as their intimacy includes listening to iconic Irish rock band U2.

With the filmmakers faithful to the storyline and moral quandries, POWs Sam and young Marine Private (Patrick Fluger) go through a lot before surprising his family at home. After his rescue from the Taliban, the loving father and soldier has become a haunted, terrifying presence.

The first and third acts are more entertaining, as the middle sections which shift on and off the war zone doesn't have the same kind of stability or clarity. But, in depicting changing behavior and attitudes is evident from a couple of scenes at home there is some heft even if the tale isn't as sensitively done in deft strokes.

There may be questioning of the unrugged Gyllenhaal and Maguire in their respective parts, as they both internalize them in ways that work better for the former, maybe using a little of his Moonlight Mile family crisis milieu. A still boyish Maguire relates Sam's struggles with some dexterity, but comes on too strong in the lattergoing.

Portman, on the other hand, is less emotive with Grace who demonstrates a sincerity in the desire to maintain control of her family which will never be the same. It may be her best effort since Closer as there is palpable chemistry with Gyllenhaal. Nielsen (Gyllenhaal) was also the glue in the original in a more nuanced, revealing and empathetic turn.

One of Brothers highlights has to be what Sheridan, if one remembers In America, gets out of those playing Isabelle and Maggie, as Geare, and notably Madison are very charming and unassuming. The latter really shines in a scene with her father at Maggie's birthday party.

Well-shot in cinemascope, the social and personal complications surrounding repurcussions of battlefield horrors realigned in an American context isn't as explosive and gratifying as its more nuanced, understated predecessor. A slow-burn thematically may very well connect, especially those who've gone through what Sam has. Yet, the overrall depiction of society in a new setting and a sudden wrap-up somewhat dilutes the potency of the filmmaking and maturing performers. What's incendiary and excruciating in a traditional melodramatic way doesn't have the poignancy like Coming Home did.

  Frank Chris Jim Nina Sam Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Brothers (2009)  B      B-               B+   B 

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