Didn't this movie come out last year? Or at least earlier this year? I remember seeing trailers for it a long time ago and then they just disappeared. I figured I either missed it or it was going to pop up on DVD at some point from a studio that lost faith in it. I guess I was wrong. It turns out it was just lying low, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting audience. It has now arrived, inflicting its melodrama on the world at large. The question is, does it work? Yes and no.
Brothers is a remake of a 2004 Swedish film called Brødre. I have not seen the film, but I understand it is a lower budget affair that was well received in its native country. Of course, we could not get this on the big screen here, as we all know everyone's apparent aversion to subtitles and world cinema at large. In order to get people to see this story it had to be adapted to the American experience and shot with recognizable faces (although the Swedish film did feature Connie Nielsen). Still, is it any good?
There are elements to like about this film, but overall I cannot say it is a good one. Some of the performances are eye-catching and very effective, but others are just poor and distracting. On top of that, I feel like I have seen this story before. How come it seems that every film that deals with the conflict in the Middle East are either lectures (with Lions for Lambs being the worst offender) or about broken relationships? This is perhaps not true across the board, but it seems like a lot of them fall into these two categories. Brothers falls into the latter as it centers on a shifting family dynamic.
The title refers to the central characters of Sam (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal). Sam is a military man, a Marine who has already served a few tours in Afghanistan. He is married to the aptly named Grace (reminds me of another war-themed film, Grace is Gone) and the couple have two young daughters. Tommy, Sam's younger brother, has followed a different path, one paved with crime and disappointment.
As Brothers begins, Sam is preparing for another tour, much to the chagrin of his wife and children who wish desperately for him to stay. Meanwhile, Tommy has recently been released from prison following a stint for armed robbery. As we move forward, we learn of Sam and Tommy's father's disappointment in the younger sibling and how proud he is of his Marine son. It is a feeling he does not hide well. However, that is just one small part of the story.
The story picks up as Sam's helicopter is shot down and he is presumed dead. The news and loss hit Grace and Tommy very hard. Grace sort of retreats into herself while Tommy finds himself stepping up and helping out by being a sort of replacement Sam.
It is no spoiler to know that Sam is still alive — that's in the trailer. While Grace and Tommy attempt to move their lives forward, Sam is struggling to survive in harsh, brutal conditions in Afghanistan. That comprises the first half of the movie. The second half deals with the ramifications of what happens upon his return.
Brothers spins a familiar tale. Interpersonal relationships are tested as the family dynamic is forcibly changed by outside events. It is one that we have seen many times before and does not feel particularly fresh. In fact, the whole thing feels rather tired.
With the familiar story, what is there to hold onto? Director Jim Sheridan is likely hoping that the performances grab your attention. This is only partially successful. Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman both turn in fine performances, doing all that they can to breathe life into the material. They actually do a good job of keeping the characters grounded and believable.
The biggest acting problem is Tobey Maguire, upon whom much of the story rests. He has the biggest emotional swings of anyone in the film and I do not believe one moment of it. His on/off personality is distracting and does not work for me. There is a lack of subtlety as he goes from blank block of wood to wild-eyed maniac in the blink of an eye and I couldn't care less. The same can be said for Sam Shepard, who plays the father. He is all one note. Whenever he was onscreen I could not help but think of the father in Walk Hard. You remember, he would pop up and say, "The wrong son died." That about says it all.
No, Brothers is not a bad movie. I just did not feel all that connected to the overly melodramatic telling of the tale. It is another movie out to manipulate the heartstrings of the audience while ultimately going nowhere. The best moments of the film involve Portman and Gyllenhaal, but it is not enough that I could recommend this movie.
Bottom line. You could do worse, but if you are looking for a movie with true emotional resonance, there are better options out there. Brothers wants you to think it is a deep examination of these individuals' lives, but in the end all we get is some turned topsoil.