- More Tobey Maguire than ever before!
A soldier and family man goes to war and is feared lost. Over time his young wife begins to bond with his black sheep brother. But the soldier is not lost, only captured. When he comes back things are going to get dicey.
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writers: David Benioff, Susanne Bier (original)
Cinematographer: Frederick Elmes
Cast: Tobey Maguire. Jake Gyllenhaal. Natalie Portman. Sam Shepard. Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez Gonzalez Collins, Jr. Mare Winningham.
Tobey Maguire approximates James Russo’s lone expression.
More than one guy wants to sleep with Natalie Portman. In other news, oxygen helps.
War is heck.
A few movies have been made on the subject and fallout back at home because of it. Some great ones, some horrible ones, and some solid middle of the road ones. Brothers is one of the latter. It’s quite good but not a classic. A lot has to do with timing. If this film had come out a few years earlier (as the film it’s based on did) some of the subject matter would have more bite and certain aspects of the plot wouldn’t feel as familiar. It’s unfair to judge a film on aspects other than the film itself but there’s a lot of baggage when you make a movie about the effects of war when the war is so controversial, fresh in our minds, and frankly one that has at times threatened to rip our country apart.
But the movie is good. Quite good.
“How on Earth can she tell I just returned from the Peter North Shooting Gallery?”
Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal are the title characters, the former being a respected and successful young man who has risen up the ranks in the military and put together a beautiful family (including Bailee Madison, star of the upcoming Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark). The latter is just emerging from prison an veritable black sheep in every way and the antithesis of Maguire in nearly every way. That said, they share a bond and even though their parents (Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham) hold one brother in much higher regard the elder brother still looks out for his sibling. The relationship is refreshing, because this could have easily waltzed right down stereotype lane and still had registered but when you have Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) behind the lens there’s very little chance the family dynamic’s going to get the short shrift. Families are the man’s bread and butter and there are few directors as good at finding ways to deliver something new in that dreadful tired corner in the film world. If it doesn’t feel real it’s discarded and where this film veers most drastically from its source is in the relationships of the central family.
“Why didn’t I spend more time with kids earlier? They’re so soft and easy to push deep into the snow forever!”
While there’s plenty
of interesting possibilities to explore, the story is set into motion
rather quickly when Maguire is sent to war and soon feared killed in
action. After the government is convinced he’s lost, they send their
messenger crew (the subject of their own exceptional movie this past
year with Woody Harrelson) to the home of the ‘widow’, played by the
real star of the film, Natalie Portman. Though it’s not an Oscar grubbing role, being caught in the middle of a powder keg situation allows an already terrific actress to impress in new ways.
Grief is not an emotion
exclusive to the wives of dead soldiers and though the extended family
all cope with the loss there’s really no one there for the lesser
brother. He fills the void left by his brother and feelings stir between
him and his sister-in-law. As you’d expect.
I mean, it’s Natalie
Portman. He’s not dumb by golly.
“Mom, I asked you to cook your winning ham and you fucked me.”
Taking this approach in the movie works for a
variety of reasons. It wisely lets us know immediately that Tobey’s not
dead, but rather undergoing a hell of captivity and mettle testing
danger and tormentors who want to see American heroes squirm. There are
actually two very effective movies here and this split personality may have cost the film a little in the long run because it’s a lot to compress into one film. It’s why the movie works and is very solid but not truly great. That said, anyone not sold on Maguire’s
ability and range ought to be sated with this film. He’s intense as I’ve ever
seen him before and there are some wrenching scenes of him and his
fellow soldiers while prisoners. When he gets home, well if you’ve
seen the trailers, he’s even more intense.
His story is an interesting one, and though there are no bad guys (though Sam Shepard’s father character does represent the kind of parent that does a lot of unintentional emotional damage) Maguire does come back a very broken and dangerous man. So much so that I originally thought this was a thriller based on the trailers.
Tobey was the runner-up in the 20 Meter Zangief.
Then there’s the
movie on the home front. Often considered the weak link in all-star
movies, Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific here in a less showy role. Sheridan
is very deft in how he slowly brings the two shattered people (and the
children, who add a lot of nice nuance to the movie) together. It doesn’t feel cheap
or easy and though there’s not enough time in a two hour movie to give
them a lot of ups and downs before the inevitable return of the elder
brother it’s enough to set up the pieces for the finale. I like Jake.
He’s never going to win any major awards but he’s reliable and though he
was a little soft in Zodiac I feel he’s the real reason Brokeback Mountain
worked so well. His contrast with Heath Ledger is rather sublime and
often overlooked. This is a good role for him and he does an admirable
job of bouncing from being a troublemaker to being a man on the mend to
dealing with tragedy and a man so desperately trying to earn his
father’s love to the well-rounded guy who is forced to become the
stronger brother. Now he’s Prince of
It’s a very well acted film. It’s a very well directed film. As a huge fan of David Benioff I was pleased with the subtlety he brought to this with his script. This is a film with a concept that could have easily proven risible. This is “move of the week” stuff given a very unique and talented cast and crew and the kind of drama that serve as the much needed meat and potatoes stuff for a film diet.
Last year was one with a lot of good genre offerings and some really nice surprises. This just missed my “best of’ list last year and I’m glad to say that repeat viewings have done nothing to change that. It’s not outstanding in any particular element, but the whole works quite well.
It was always a special time when they played Hide and Go Master Blaster.
I like Jim Sheridan. He’s one of those filmmakers who seems to have his little wheelhouse and exist in it perfectly, and then he does a 50 Cent movie. Brothers is one of the few films he didn’t originate, but if it’s a “director for hire” gig, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
His commentary track is fantastic. Simply fantastic. There are no lulls, he doesn’t just pat his crew on the back. He talks about making a movie honestly. The DVD special features section is rife these days with chaff and bullshit, the worst being self-congratulatory materials where accolades are doled out at the expense of actual film discussion.
This is as genuine and heartening a track as I’ve heard.
The rest of the disc is devoted to the transition from the original foreign film to this English version but Jim Sheridan’s commentary is by far the real gift here.
out of 10