Director    Jim Sheridan
Starring    Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Carey Mulligan, Clifton Collins Jr, Ethan Suplee
Release    4 DEC (US) 22 JAN (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


24th January 2010

Is it just me, or has there not been a good comedy out in months? Thanks very much, Oscar season, for a series of thoughtful, harrowing dramas that put you right off your popcorn in the harsh, cold light of day. Yeah gang, let's all go to the movies on a Friday night! That'll be fun! (*sigh*)

The 'Brothers' in question here are Sam and Tommy Cahill, a marine Captain and an ex-convict respectively. When we meet them, Sam (Tobey Maguire) is just days away from being deployed to Afghanistan, and Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) has just been released from jail. It's made very clear by their father, Hank (Sam Shepherd), that Tommy has been a let down since he busted out of the womb, and that Sam, in following his father's military footsteps, is the Golden Child and can do no wrong.

Hank is forced to see Tommy in a different light once Sam's helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan and he is presumed dead. Tommy sobers up, and becomes a real friend and rock for Sam's ridiculously beautiful widow Grace (Natalie Portman) and their two daughters. Building kitchens, cavorting around on ice-rinks, he takes care of and comforts them in their time of need.

It's not spoiling anything to reveal that Sam isn't dead, but rather has been taken hostage by some insanely cocky Taliban and returns home, tortured, beaten and broken. The scenes of his capture and imprisonment are some of the more distressing sequences in recent memory (unless, that is, you can remember all the way back to The Road).

[gallery]It is the aftermath of his return which is the meat of the film. Haunted by what happened in the desert, Sam is a ghost of his former self, so much so that even his devoted Vietnam vet father doesn't understand him. Torn by his burgeoning love for Grace, and his relief that his brother is alive, Tommy tries to take the easy way out and slip into his old ways, bringing drunken strangers to family dinners and ditching his nieces. Pulled between each brother, and trying to protect her daughters from the horror that their father carries around him like a cloak, Grace is baffled, patient and terrified.

Director Jim Sheridan pushes the emotion, and Maguire's eyeballs, to bursting point. Once back home, Sam is suspicious of everyone and angry at everything. The anticipation of his breakdown is built steadily and when he does finally explode you, Tommy and Grace can only watch wide-eyed and frozen. The connections between the three leads and the branches that reach out to the rest of the family are taut and brittle, but as soon as the credits roll and the lights come up, the film is forgotten. Sheridan is a master story teller, but this is not his story to tell.

Hollywood's insistence in remaking great films for no other reason than apparently people in their focus groups don't like to read and listen at the same time has again resulted in a movie that is just not as good as the original. Brothers is a middle of the road, and overly glossy retread of Danish writer/director Susanne Bier's award-winning Brødre, and is itself unlikely to win any awards for performance or originality.

However, it is moving and even harrowing at times, and the three leads are solid throughout, even though Maguire and Portman are not quite believable as parents. It is a tale of guilt, trust and torn family ties - more concerned with the war at home than the war on terror. Still, not exactly a fun night out, is it?

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