Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Jim Sheridan
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Fredrick Elmes
WRITER: David Benioff
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
“Brothers” is a film that surprises its audience. Once they figure the film to be a melodramatic drama, it suddenly turns into a gripping wartime drama with one of lead actor Tobey Maguire’s best performances to date. The film itself is based on the 2004 Danish film, “Brodre”, which takes place in Afghanistan and Denmark.
Sam (Maguire) is about to deploy to Afghanistan while his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) has just gotten out of prison for armed robbery. Once Sam departs, he leaves behind his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and their two daughters, Isabelle and Maggie. One day, Grace gets a visit from the Marines who say that Sam’s helicopter has crashed and that he is presumed dead.
After hearing the news, Tommy attempts to take part in Grace and the kids’ lives and begins by performing repair work on Grace’s kitchen. Eventually, the two become closer while mourning the loss of Sam. In the meantime, Sam is revealed to be alive and is being held as a prisoner of war.
Eventually, Sam is rescued and returns home. There, he must fight his true battle as he tries desperately to reconnect with his family and fight of the demons bred by his experiences overseas. David Benioff did a good job adapting the screenplay from Danish director Susanne Bier’s original film, but it is the performances three main stars that really drive the film.
Natalie Portman is very effective as Grace. She never overplays her dramatic scenes and she always knows when Grace’s strength and vulnerability need to come out. Portman makes Grace a very sad yet very determined woman who does what she can to reach out to Sam. Portman proves once again that she is a talented and smart dramatic actress who understands the material presented to her.
Her character is also trying to deal with her developing attraction to Tommy, played superbly by Gyllenhaal. Here, Gyllenhaal could have played the role of hero to Grace’s family. Instead, he plays Tommy as a man simply looking for redemption from people like his father (Sam Shepard) and those he wronged in the past.
Tommy’s transformation from a troubled offspring to an arm for Grace to lean on is subtle and evolves at an appropriate pace. He mourns the loss of his brother while trying to deal with the fact that his family has always looked down on him. Gyllenhaal is used to playing damaged people and brings that experience to the role.
However, no performance in this film can even come close to that of Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Sam. As mentioned above, this without a doubt one of Maguire’s best roles yet. It is also one of his darkest as he must slowly evolve from an average family man to the dark shell that returns from Afghanistan.
Sam must reconcile with the moral dilemmas he faced as a prisoner while also trying to fight back his jealousy at his family’s closeness to Tommy. Maguire gives every scene his fullest potential and it pays off. The last ten minutes of the film is worth it alone for the Academy to remember him next year for the Best Actor nod.
The only real problem with the film is that it starts off slowly and the first part of the film tended to drag a little. However, once Sam is sent to Afghanistan, the film takes off and never lets up. “Brothers” is a rough and dark look at the repercussions of war and it delivers a worthy drama that audiences should not overlook.