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.