Directed by: Jim Sheridan (Get Rich or Die Tryin')
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Sam Shepard, Clifton Collins Jr.
After originally watching the trailer for Jim Sheridan’s Brothers (based on Susanne Bier’s Danish film Brødre (2004)), my reaction—based solely upon the breast-beating theatrics on display—was that this was an effort to make Tobey Maguire relevant again and maybe pick up a couple Oscar nominations in the bargain. After watching the film, I can’t really say that I feel that I’m wrong. This is definitely the kind of serious-minded filmmaking that’s supposed to come across as powerful stuff during award’s season, and some might find it moving, evidenced by the person in the row behind me who clapped as the end credits began to roll.
My biggest problem with the film is that it’s heavy drama coated in sparse, utilitarian filmmaking. Sure, it’s admittedly very good utilitarian filmmaking, but there’s a lack of true emotion in this kind of calculated approach, no matter how weighty the subject matter. This is especially disappointing, since the movie often displays a warm heart at its center. It’s just a pity that Sheridan never realizes that the innate humanity Brothers often displays is more important than the breast-beating acting that pops up from time to time and the heavy-minded issues the movie wants to tackle.
The plot revolves around two brothers. One is Sam (Tobey Maguire), a U.S. Marine with a perfect marriage to his high-school sweetheart Grace (Natalie Portman) and two precocious daughters. The other is Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), a convicted bank robber who’s just gotten out of prison and has found himself with little direction in life other than hitting bars. Sam gets shipped off to Afghanistan for another tour of duty, and word soon returns that he’s died in a helicopter crash, but in actuality, he’s been taken hostage by enemy forces.
The bulk of the movie then centers around the changes that happen in each brother in the wake of Sam’s “death” and Sam’s eventual return home. It takes Sam’s death for Tommy to go from ne’er-do-well to substitute family man, helping Grace around the house and taking care of her daughters. Sam, on the other hand, has come home unhinged by the horrors of war.
The movie is supposed to be a study of family, specifically of two brothers, but there’s rarely any chemistry between Maguire and Gyllenhaal. We accept that they’re brothers, because the movie tells us so, but we never feel like they truly are. On top of this, Maguire’s attempts at being a menacing nutcase are more often awkward than they are believable, mostly because he’s simply not cut out to be intimidating. He gets close on occasion, but its not quite enough to give the movie the emotional impact it thinks it deserves. All in all, it’s still a worthy movie—with or without the awful, hokey, folksy rock score or the U2 song that pops up over the credits. Sheridan does get some things right, when he embraces the more human aspects of his characters. Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content.