Written by: David Benioff, based on the 2004 film by Susanne Bier
Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard
Jim Sheridan’s Brothers is, for the most part, an unremarkable film. I have not yet seen Susanne Bier’s Brødre, so I cannot speak to that film nor the quality of this as a remake. I suspect this is a neutered, melodramatic Americanisation of that film but it is unfair of me to say so. Visually, Brothers is fairly uninteresting, or at least unoriginal. The camera is used solely to tell he story and not ever really to tell anything more. The soundtrack is generic and bland, attempting nothing particularly compelling. Wonderful Hollywood talent like Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Sam Shepard do what they can with such a bland script, and they all steer away from melodrama and maintain absolute control of their characters.
All of that being said, Brothers is still a fascinating watch for just one reason: Tobey Mcaguire gives the performance of his career and makes Brothers more than enthralling. McGuire plays Sam Cahill, a warm and loving father and husband, he has just what he wants and he is gracious for it. As the plot continues, one can hear the gears turning, it’s not hard to follow and it’s not hard to predict. Sam gets called to duty in Afghanistan, his helicopter crashes and he’s declared dead. As his wife (Portman) tries to continue her life with their little girls, Sam’s brother (Gyllenhaal), an ex-con and the shame of his father, finds purpose for himself by helping Sam’s family. Of course Sam is not dead, but he spends months in a hole as a P.O.W. where he is made to do truly awful things. It is when Sam arrives home that the movie becomes absolutely compelling. Sam suffers from PTSD, the intensity of which I suspect is not far from the reality of such a thing. He becomes suspicious of the relationship between his brother and his wife. He is cold towards his wife and angry towards his daughters. His paranoia is through the roof, he stalks his home at night, insanity I his eyes and a pistol in his hand. Maguire puts so much more into this role than the movie required, and he reaches depths not seen from him before. Sam loses grip and can’t seem to separate truth and suspicion, past and present. During the final act of the film, Maguire’s Sam is wirey, sunken-eyed and sleep deprived and he reaches notes of anger and intensity that at moments reach Travis Bickle levels of terror.
Brothers is not a bad movie, though I’ve surely given that impression. It’s weaker elements are held together by the many talented people involved. Gyllenhaal’s Tommy has tender moments of sadness and quiet desperation, Portman’s Grace is just so natural as she does everything she can to stop her family from falling apart but realizes she can’t. Sheridan tells his story in an efficient manor and while he attempts no cinematic acrobatics, nobody said he had to. Maguire not only owns the film but he makes Brothers worth going out of your way to see.