Not since the Academy Award-winning “The Deer Hunter” has a film expressed so viscerally the human cost of war like Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers.”
Running one hour and 50 minutes, the film was able to touch on themes like family, war, love, forgiveness, redemption and guilt without undercutting anyone.
The same week Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) goes off to war in Afghanistan, his younger brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets out of jail. Once in Afghanistan, Sam is presumed dead after his helicopter is attacked and crashes. The rest of the family is left to adjust to life without him.
Tommy starts to redeem himself by filling in as a fatherly figure in Sam’s home. After Sam is found alive, he tries to take his place back into his life, yet he is not the same person he was when he left.
A remake of the Dutch film, “Brødre,” Sheridan takes advantage of all the acting talent he has.
The biggest risk for all the actors was to not become bigger than their real life characters, which ultimately is thankfully never achieved.
Natalie Portman is exceptional in her role as Sam’s housewife Grace. Portman’s beauty doesn’t hinder the characters simplicity but manages to enhance the emotion needed to show the pain the character constantly deals with.
Gyllenhaal creates the best moments with Tommy and Sam’s father Hank, played by Sam Shepard.
When Tommy first sees his father after both found out Sam was reported dead, the silence and few words spoken are electric. Sheridan’s ability to isolate characters propels chemistry between all the actors, and at times the characters are front and center by themselves.
The only issue with the film was that it fell into the same holes that other films have that involve war: the portrayal of terrorists. Sam’s captors are shown as brutal and bloodthirsty. When they are not shown as stoic brutes, they are yelling and screaming.
In one scene, a boy watches his uncle get shot in the head when Sam refuses to cooperate with his captor’s demands.
It simplified the film when it pulled back, just like “The Deer Hunter” did when it portrayed the Viet Cong.
Taking focus off Sam’s struggle to look at terrorists more complexly might have been a risk, but it would be one that could have served the film well.
The showcase though is Maguire’s performance in the end.
This film showed Tobey Maguire’s return to form. Usually in roles that require a boyish charm, Maguire’s frigid calm was haunting as his character braced captivity and tried to reconnect with civilization. Not since “Cider House Rules” has Maguire demanded the screen, making this role his best performance to date.
Maguire’s performance just so happens to be lined up for the upcoming Academy Award season, where an Oscar nod wouldn’t come as a surprise.