Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Year: 2009
Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Patrick Flueger

I had waited for quite a while to see this film. My anticipation had been building ever since I heard about it. I'm not such a big fan of Tobey Maguire or Jake Gyllenhaal, but I do like Natalie Portman, even though her work for the past few years have been inconsistent. The story intrigued me and it had a good trailer, so I hoped I could see it eventually, at the same time keeping in mind that not all films from Hollywood make it to my country.

And when Brothers finally reached my shores, I learned that it was a limited release. So I made sure I made time to catch it in theatres while I still could.

So let's get to it. Brothers focuses on a family, the Cahills. The two main protagonists are brothers Sam (Maguire) and Tommy (Gyllenhaal). The former is an army captain while the latter has just been released from prison for armed robbery.

While Sam is the apple of his father Hank's (Sam Shepard) eye, Tommy is the opposite. Hank despises Tommy for being the proverbial black sheep of the family. Despite that fact, Sam respects his brother and treats him better than the rest of the family does.

One day, Sam gets shipped to Afghanistan on a mission, leaving behind his wife Grace (Portman) and their two daughters. Tragedy strikes when Sam's helicopter is shot down and he's presumed dead. The Cahills, including Tommy mourn his death.

Tommy makes an effort to get close to Grace and his nieces and helps them get over their loss, though winning over his stubborn dad is a lot easier said than done. But that doesn't matter as Grace and her kids finally find good reasons to smile as a hole in their lives seem patched.

But there's a problem of course. Sam didn't die. In fact, he had been captured by the Afghan rebels, tortured and made to do something he'll never forgive himself for. Sam is eventually rescued and brought home safe to his family. But this isn't the same man who left his family behind months ago. Can Grace, Tommy and the kids reconcile with him again?

Brothers is based on the Danish film Brodre and directed by Jim Sheridan, who has made films like My Left Foot and In The Name Of The Father. Brothers isn't just a family drama, it's also about what war does to a soldier, how it changes him and how it affects the people around him when he comes home. Sheridan is driving this point home in the movie, because despite the title describing the two very different siblings, it's more about how a family faces a crisis stemming from loss, death, misunderstanding, jealousy and pent up rage.

Maguire is excellent as Sam, who transforms from loving father and husband in the beginning to paranoid and unstable towards the end of the film. He is ably supported by Gyllenhaal, who nicely portrays Tommy as the flawed hero, always eager to make amends while trying his best not to screw things up. My only complaint about these two is that Maguire, despite being 35 years old, looks too young to be a marine captain, and Gyllenhaal, despite being younger than Maguire in real life, looks older than him.

Portman on the other hand, gives an understated performance for the most part, which disappoints me a bit. But I guess her character Grace leans more towards a loyal, loving wife than an emotionally charged female. Heck, Grace wouldn't even give her daughter severe verbal abuse for humiliating her in front of a guest at the dinner table. But Portman is always nice to look at, so I'm not complaining too much. Shepard and Winningham provide some nice moments as father and stepmother respectively.

As a drama, it works generally. But I felt that it could have been so much more. I thought that the ending was rather limp, and the climax of the film fizzled out as quickly as it began. At that point, the film was like a fused powder keg just waiting to blow up, but it never gets there. So when it's over, it feels like you've just watched a TV movie. Some of the editing needs work too, as there were times I found some scenes unnecessary, and others lacked continuity.

I guess you can say all my anticipation didn't quite pay off here. But if I can give you a reason to watch Brothers, it's the lead performances. It's just too bad that wasn't enough to make it great. (3.5/5)

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