This affecting family drama was unfortunately mis-marketed upon its release,
with trailers and posters hinting that it was either a war movie or a
film revolving around a love triangle. In truth, it is a tale of loss,
trauma and forgiveness, but the misleading promotion is understandable
for a film which, itself, sometimes seems confused about what genre it
should fall under.
Adapted from Danish film Brødre, Brothers tells the story of upstanding Marine Sam Cahill (Maguire), a responsible father and husband, respected soldier in Afghanistan and apple of his father’s eye, and his brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal),
black sheep of the family and troublemaker. When Sam’s helicopter
crashes in Afghanistan and all aboard are presumed dead, however, it
gives Tommy the push he needs to clean up his act and help to look after
Sam’s grieving wife, Grace (Portman) and his two daughters.
But Sam is not dead – he has been captured by enemy soldiers and is
subjected to physical torture and psychological abuse for months, while,
in the meantime, Tommy and Grace connect and help each other come to terms with their loved one’s supposed death.
When Sam is eventually rescued and returns back home, he finds it
difficult to readjust, mentally scarred by the horrors he endured and
convinced that Tommy and Grace slept together while he was being held
hostage. Before long, Sam’s paranoia and increasingly erratic behaviour threatens to tear his family apart as he starts to show signs of being dangerously unhinged.
It’s a powerful story that raises many questions about boundaries and learning to cope with tragedy, but a sadly flawed script glosses over some of the more important moments
and ultimately does not offer any answers or commentary on the issues
it presents. Tommy’s turnaround from irresponsible loser to devoted
family man seems to happen almost instantly as the film does little to establish a timeframe during Sam’s absence.
Luckily, the film is saved by the three powerhouse performances given by its leading stars. Jake Gyllenhaal
stands out towards the start of the film, portraying Tommy with a deep
level of frustration bubbling under his otherwise cocky visage that
lends the character much-needed gravitas. Natalie Portman too
gives an understated portrait of a widowed mother of two that seems
perfectly natural, despite some initial concerns that she would be too
young for such a role, and does an admirable job as the anchor that
holds the story (and the siblings) together.
However, the superior performance here is supplied by Tobey Maguire.
World-wide recognition as a baby-faced Peter Parker means that he fails
to convince as a tough Marine at first, but his transformation to the distracted, tragic figure that Sam eventually becomes is spellbinding,
with thanks to a hefty amount of weight-loss that sees him reach
near-skeletal proportions. The climactic scene in which Maguire is let
off the leash as an incredulous Sam, destroying the room around him
while screaming in vitriolic torment at his distanced wife, surely marks a career best for the still relatively young actor.
It is just a shame then that the actors are let down by a script that does not really go anywhere – particularly as the ending seems abrupt and is ultimately unsatisfying. Director Jim Sheridan
rushes through the early character development and can not get the tone
of the film quite right (made worse by the choice of unsuitable alt
rock motifs that punctuate certain scenes).