Brothers Isn't a War Movie. Just Ask Jake Gyllenhaal.
Brothers is many things: a family drama, a study of grief, an exploration of the darkest reaches of human nature, and a remake. One thing it isn't? A war movie. At least according to the people who made it.
"Obviously a big part of the movie is the war," producer Ryan Kavanaugh told Movieline, "but we don't really see it as a war movie, per se." Is this a clever marketing ploy on Kavanaugh's part? A sly verbal manipulation to distance it from previous box office failures? Kavanaugh admits to dabbling previously in what one might call "categorically lax" marketing tactics. "I made a movie called 3:10 to Yuma," he admits, "which we called an 'adventure thriller.'" One can only wonder what kind of semantic slight of hand Kavanaugh could apply to Brothers. Sibling conflict drama? Romantic psycho-dramedy?
From a marketing standpoint, Brothers seems to suffer from an identity crisis. Previews presumably geared toward the Danielle Steele crowd hype the domestic-triangle dispute, essentially underselling what is a far more intriguing situation. The previews may flash "lust" and "betrayal" in red caps against a black screen and atonal piano music -- but Brothers isn't a romantic drama, either. Still, that's not the term causing involuntary convulsions in its producers.
"If you replace Afghanistan and the war with any situation" for main character Sam Cahill to endure, Kavanaugh told us, "it could be anywhere, any turmoil, it could be a kidnapping, anything -- I don't think it changes the essence of the movie." And it's not just Kavanaugh that dislikes the association. "It's funny that people are saying this is some kind of war movie," says Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays emotionally bruised ex-con brother Tommy Cahill. "It is intertwined with a lot of other complications," he concedes -- those complications presumably being Sam Cahill's life-altering torture in Afghanistan during the, uh, war -- "but mostly it's about what this man does to get back to the people that he loves and to his life."
But Gyllenhaal isn't wrong. Brothers focuses more on the psychological journey of an individual soldier than the structure of military conflict. You could say Brothers reverses the standard war movie formula by featuring the war in the soldier rather than the soldier in the war, and for that reason alone it does deserve some degree of differentiation. But it also begs the larger question: Has the term "war movie" become a bad word?
Feature film nomenclature is a grossly inexact science, with categories based on approximate accuracy and a blanketing impact that can swallow the thematic nuances of a film. What we think of as "war movies" carry the cumbersome associations of politics, guilt, and that much-dreaded Hollywood buzzkill: reality. The Brothers team wants to preempt the tide, rightly or wrongly, if only to preserve what is a highly sophisticated character study that happens to be profoundly informed by war.
"A lot of our foreign distributor partners, domestic partners, and everybody involved I think saw past the normal war issues," Kavanaugh said. "And they saw that something magical could be created by putting all these people together."
Director Jim Sheridan took a different, if more direct approach to the question: "I think there's a denial that there's a war going on at all," he said.