Genre: Drama, Thriller, War
Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire
People always seem to forget the aftermath of war. They remember during, but very little remember the way those soldiers felt once they’ve returned from it. Brothers is a film that explores what it’s like for a soldier who returns home after being presumed dead and how his life now seems more alien than what it did when he was out fighting. Once he returns a hero people think his work is done, but with some of these men the psychological trauma is too much to take and the mundane tasks of the real world are tougher to be a part of than shooting at the enemy. This film looks at this condition through the eyes of one family who grew stronger after hearing of their loved ones death, but fell apart on his return to life.
Brothers stars Tobey Maguire as Captain Sam Cahill. He’s married to the gorgeous Grace (Natalie Portman) and has two young daughters. At the start he’s the only one willing to pick his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) up from prison, as the rest of his family have disowned him since he was put inside. Sam is a good husband, father, brother, and from his proud Father’s (Sam Shepard) perspective, son. Sam is sent back out to Afghanistan, much to the dismay of Grace, and is shot down in a helicopter whilst crossing the desert. Believed to be dead Sam’s family are given the terrible news and after much grieving do all they can to get back on with their lives. Grace is supported by Tommy, who after his brother’s death grows into a better person, and does all he can to make Grace’s life easier. Grace and Tommy’s bond strengthens and one night they kiss, and though both stop before it goes any further, they know a line has been crossed.
Meanwhile out in the desert Sam is still alive and has been imprisoned by the Afghan troops. After being tortured and flirting with death, Sam is found and sent back home to his family. Once there it’s apparent he’s not the same person. He confronts Grace believing she’s sleeping with Tommy and something inside is eating away at him causing violent tempers and rages. With the entire family becoming frightened of him, Grace tries to get to the bottom of who this returned man really is and what actually happened when he was a prisoner of war.
The film could have and should have been a lot better than it was. The synopsis for it reads well and the cast are audience grabbers, however it’s other moments of the film that bring it down. For starters the script is terrible – the dialogue is some of the most unrealistic I have heard in a movie. I lost count of the amount of times Tommy and Sam told each other they were brothers. It was as if the writer thought that we wouldn’t understand the theme of the movie or that the title of the film related to these two men.
Relating to the title I felt that the brother’s relationship was the one that was the least explored. It showed each brother’s relationship with the family but not really with each other, which I thought would have been the key element of the movie. However, it was an interesting role reversal by the end where the one in the army became the lunatic and the one from prison became the freest. This arc worked really well, especially through their father who I hated at the beginning and was glad that Tommy won his approval by the end. If the script for this film was tighter then it could have been much better.
The acting is a major point to talk about. When I first saw Maguire was starring as the lead I instantly thought that he was miscast. After seeing the film I don’t disagree with my original thinking. Maguire is very good in this film, not so much at first but by the end he has transformed into a different person and in the last scene he’s brilliant, however he just doesn’t look like a man in the army. He’s a tiny scrawny man, but we had to believe he was the leader of a troop out in Afghanistan. I failed to believe that he was a patriotic war hero because he never looked like one. I felt that Gyllenhaal and Maguire should have swapped roles, that way I could believe Gyllenhaal was in the army and Maguire was the scrawny thief from prison. This was a major issue for me as, no matter how good he turned out to be, Maguire just didn’t look the part. He even looked out of place to be married to the gorgeous Grace. Portman isn’t on show stopping form here, but she looks beautiful and brings heart to the story. Gyllenhaal does his job, but his character doesn’t have much depth.
By the end I was unsure what to think of the film. At the beginning the choice of music, the acting and dialogue really put me off watching the rest. It looked like it was going to be a poor movie, proving why it had a limited release in cinemas. However, when Sam came back the whole story changed and it became more gripping and tense. The final third of the movie ultimately saved it. The middle act tended to drag and felt like some of it could be trimmed, but much of that’s forgotten when you see Maguire’s terrifying performance in the final act.
What starts off as a little dull and drab turns out to be frightening and dark. If it wasn’t for the opening half this could have been much better.