On DVD: Brothers

“Brothers” boasts great dramatic prowess and a trio of talented actors in their prime. The only thing missing is originality. The family drama caused by a father leaving his wife and kids as he’s deployed to Afghanistan coupled with the terrors of post-traumatic stress disorder are – – as insensitive as it feels to say — nothing new, at least to the world of film.

Jim Sheridan’s intimate film based on the 2004 Danish film from Susanne Bier, creates moments of great drama. Cpt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is a devoted marine who on his most recent tour to Afghanistan gets in a helicopter accident and is presumed dead, widowing his wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) and leaving two little girls in the care of with his alcoholic Vietnam vet father (Sam Shepard) and prison parolee brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal).

The trailer makes this out to seem like a more serious version of the film “Pearl Harbor” with romantic feelings coming between Grace and Tommy before they know Sam’s still alive, but luckily, as much as there might not be surprises, there are no clichés in “Brothers.”

Impressing the most is by far Maguire, who shakes his boyish looks and “Spider-Man” related typecasting to portray a young father obsessed with and completely ripped apart by war. At first it’s hard to believe Sheridan expects us to see Maguire as the elder brother of Gyllenhaal, but the end of the film Maguire not only has you shaken, but also totally convinced of his character.

Portman has a far more typical role in playing Grace and being asked to tackle a pair of scenes where she finds out her husband is dead and then again when her husband is alive. She’s excellent as the fragile but not outwardly so “widow,” but her talents could be better utilized in a more complex character. Regardless, she’s spot on.

If there were a Best Performance by a Child Oscar, I think hands down 10-year-old Bailee Madison as the older sister Isabelle would’ve won it. For someone her age, the complexity of her portrayal and ability to show exactly what she’s feeling without overdoing it is amazing. Her character is incredibly mature and she is equally so. Isabelle is the child that knows what’s going on and has some issues with wanting attention.

The only reason “Brothers” was passed on at the Academy Awards was simply that it was straightforward. Maguire was probably inches from a nomination, but the film on the whole doesn’t offer a formative experience. For intense family drama, however, not many will beat it.

4/5 Stars

Directed by Jim Sheridan
Written by David Benioff, Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen (2004 film)
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal


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