Brothers – Review

Does this family have what it takes to make a good movie?

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Director: Jim Sheridan
Notable Cast: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman

The death of a family member affects people related to that person in different ways, depending on just how close they may have been, or how much that person was respected. The ripple effect of this one event can tear a family apart, or bring it together in new, unforeseen ways; or it can do both.

Brothers is the story about two polar opposite brothers, Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the affect they have on their surrounding family. The film begins with Sam going to meet up with his brother, who has just been released from prison on parole. Sam’s wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) isn’t so pleased with this, as she isn’t a huge fan of Tommy and his past antics – which included armed robbery – and also that it’s taking time out of the precious moments they have left together before Sam is redeployed to Afghanistan.

The bond between the brothers is evident, as Sam doesn’t look down on his younger brother Tommy, even though they basically ended up on opposite sides of the track. During a family dinner we meet their father Hank (Sam Shepard), who doesn’t hide his disappointment in Tommy, while outright slapping him in the face with the success of his brother Sam before walking out. Soon after, Tommy and Sam say their goodbyes, and Tommy tells Sam to be safe “over there,” before walking off into the night.

When word comes that Sam’s helicopter has been shot down overseas, the family comes together to mourn, though once again Hank takes this time to take pot-shots at his youngest son, and though he stops just short of the cliché line “the wrong son died,” it’s hinted at bluntly enough that we all know it’s the underlying meaning. With Grace in deep mourning, Tommy takes it upon himself to help out around the house, and keep her daughters, his nieces, Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare), as entertained as he can.

The months pass by and Tommy’s life finally finds its way onto the right track, with him and Grace growing closer, and the kids all but inviting him on as a new father figure. Then word comes that Sam has been found alive, and returns home, albeit a different man than when he left. War has taken a toll on his mental-state, and suspicions arise that Tommy may have been taking care of more than just Grace’s needs around the house while he was thought dead.

The acting is incredibly well done on all fronts, but especially surprising is the work of the young Bailee Madison as the eldest daughter Isabelle. Her scenes of heartache when her father is set to leave once more and her emotional confrontations with him upon his return are nothing short of perfection. Maguire and Gyllenhaal have always been compared closely (to the point of Gyllenhaal being the unanimous choice to replace Maguire when he was thought to have been too injured to continue his work as Spider-Man) and come off quite well as brothers. Maguire’s work after returning home from near-death is spot-on; it takes the film to new levels and is downright frightening at times. Portman also shines as the grief-stricken widow, and does so in a subtle and effective way.

The focus of this movie is not the love-triangle that seems to be hinted at the most in advertisements. It’s much deeper than that, and it opens so many more doors and goes places some may not be prepared for when entering. The story, which is a remake of a 2004 Danish film Brodre, flows perfectly, and director Jim Sheridan really sets the tone perfectly, and gives his actors the chance to make this movie as strong as it is.

With the Academy opening up their nomination field for Best Picture to 10 films this year, while it’d be an incredible long-shot, I wouldn’t be remarkably shocked to find Brothers make the list. It’s the type of quieter film that the Academy tends to love, and it has some star power attached to help them feel more justified in doing so. That aside, the film is worth watching just to take in the incredible performances from all those involved as we watch them turn what could have been a simple cut-and-paste story into a heartfelt, emotional tale of love, loss, forgiveness and redemption.


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