In Theaters: Brothers

Movieline Score:

A frustrating cobble of war story, familial drama and domestic melodrama, Brothers has more affecting moments than it deserves, owing to a couple of exceptional performances and a weary nation's weakness when it comes to both sad soldier stories and Jake Gyllenhaal's soulful gaze. A remake of Suzanne Bier's 2004 film, Brødre, Brothers tries to work so much mitigating dramatic circumstance into its rather classical narrative -- two brothers, one good, one bad, are forced to reevaluate their roles when one is faced with an unbearable challenge; there's a girl -- that the title, central relationship is the one that never comes into focus.

Sam (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy (Gyllenhaal) certainly share pretty blue eyes, but that constitutes the sum total evidence of their genetic bond, something their drinky, cranky ex-Marine father (Sam Shepherd) reminds them of about five seconds after arriving on screen. Tommy has just returned from a stint in prison for something bad but not too bad (i.e. he's Jake Gyllenhaal) and despite the standard issue knuckle tattoos, skull cap and 11 o'clock shadow, Gyllenhaal manages to avoid cliché even in the initial, completely clichéd "tense dinner table reunion" scene, where Tommy and Sam, who is about to be re-deployed to Afghanistan, try to respectively deflect and manage their dad's demeaning verbal blows. Mare Winningham's in there somewhere, and I'm sure she vaguely chastises her undermining husband at some point, but honestly, I have no memory of it. Equally ephemeral is Natalie Portman's role as Sam's sweet, beautiful (and lest you miss that, two different strangers stop the presses to remark on her beauty over the course of the film) wife Grace, mother to his two children and not much else. She was a cheerleader, Sam was the high school quarterback, and Tommy was the professional fuck-up. Accept it and let's move on.

David Benioff's script does, anyway, sketching out broad character and plot strokes and then moving on before even beginning to fill them in: Sam, it seems, is killed in action when his Black Hawk helicopter is shot down. The family is told and a funeral is held despite, as we later learn, having a body or even a shred of evidence for his death; even if you haven't read about the film, you can smell a Pearl Harbor coming from 50 paces. The film moves rather awkwardly between scenes of rapprochement and then a reparative bond developing between Tommy and Grace and the girls (even his dad gives in a bit, after telling Tommy, in a frustratingly allusive post-funeral parking lot dust-up, that he wishes he had died instead of Sam), and scenes of Sam, who is actually being held captive by what must be the Taliban.

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  • Dave says:

    Translation: A f**ked up movie about f**ked up people...

  • The Winchester says:

    That term could be a blanket description of the Oscar race for the past decade.

  • Jenn says:

    Audience was really loving this trailer, with screw-up Gyllenhaal stepping up and falling in love with his widowed sister-in-law. Then suddenly Maguire reappears and destroys the picture with his goggle-eyed Travis Bickle impression.

  • LizzieLemonic says:

    I recognized the little girl in the commercial from "Bridge to Terabithia", a sweet and well-done family dynamics movie which my daughter LOVES. Madison was a revelation in that, and I could tell from the commercial for this - with her awesome rage, immediately interrupted by a shockingly flat, poor-pseudo-motherly tone from Natalie Portman - that she was going to be the only legit thing about this film.
    It scares me that people that small can be so talented at this, but when do we declare her our next Dakota Fanning?

  • Krystle says:

    I saw "Brothers" and it was one of the most relevant films I've seen in a long time. It made the reality of the psychological horrors of war very real in a no nonsense way! This film by all means should be a sleeper hit with Oscar nods for Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllanhaal and Natalie Portman who by the way was stunningly sexy and beautiful while delivering a convincing performance! Sam Shepard was Oscar caliber great as well. I totally loved this film and I haven't said about a movie in a long time.

  • I thought 'Brothers' was amazing all around, great storytelling in particular - the director went from one point to the next without messing around

  • Anonymous says:

    I didn't expect this film to make such a bold statement about war. What I liked about the delivery of that statement was that it didn't take away from the dramatic aspect of the film. The film's direction allowed for emotional performances from stars of the film. A sad but beautiful film.