Brothers (2009)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6.1/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

BROTHERS (2009) - Jim Sheridan

The war genre has constantly been expressed in diverting ways from Hollywood. Generally, the genre is split into two types: Films that center on the soldiers fighting on the battlefield, and films that center on the veterans adjusting to life at home after returning from the war. For the latter one, it is much more difficult to captivate our hearts. In 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives was awarded Best Picture. It was a masterwork of storytelling, revolving around three United States servicemen trying to piece their lives back together after coming home from the Second World War. For many decades, the film was renowned as one of the greatest veteran movies of all time.

It is now 2009, and times have changed. The movie industry has shifted into visual-effect-driven films, intriguing the eye and lacking good narratives. But then came along Brothers, a film that came out as an old-fashioned rebellion from all the other action films in the 2000s decade. The film was released as an ambitious attempt of portraying the veteran returning home storyline, but this time about Afghanistan, modernizing the war background.

Based on the 2004 Danish film BrødreBrothers revolves around Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) and his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal). A Marine captain about to embark on his fourth tour of duty, Sam is a faithful family man married to his high school sweetheart, Grace (Natalie Portman), with whom he has two young daughters, Isabelle and Maggie. Tommy is just released from jail for armed robbery, not long before Sam departs for Afghanistan. The film follows Tommy and Grace's relationship after hearing the news that Sam's helicopter crashed, and finally revolves around the trio when Sam returns home traumatized.

On a technical basis, Brothers comes forth as an old-fashioned drama that relies on terrific performances and a well-written script with appealing cinematography. Despite the film's mediocre editing, Brothers manages to easily pace itself to keep the audience interested. It may appear as cliche, but the heart of Brothers is a fruitful exploration of family relationships, reminding us of the reason why we fell in love withThe Best Years of Our Lives. Themes like responsibility, loyalty, bitterness, jealousy, and guilt drive the film to cinema's most emotional levels. Director Sheridan approaches with great talent. Instead of indulging the film into conventional conflicts, he fleshes out the characters first, letting everything else naturally unfold through the three lead performances.

Gyllenhaal and Portman are both at their very best here. With character facial expressions speaking louder than words, Brothers is a fine reminder of just how astonishing an actor Gyllenhaal can be. Portman is uniformly perfect, convincing and sympathetic, similar to her other renowned performances such as in V For Vendetta. With the help of two sensational female children as her daughters, Portman brings the suburban mother to life. Although their character personalities contrast, Portman and Gyllenhaal develop easy engaging chemistry, both mourning over the "death" of Sam. For the majority of the movie, this pair sits as the leading coup, driving the emotions and raising the suspense to the compelling finale. But the true heart of Brothers is, to my greatest amazement, Tobey Maguire.

Throughout his career, Maguire has always been an easygoing actor, playing a simple main role in Pleasantville and Peter Parker in Spider-Man. Even as the web-slinging hero, Maguire has continuously dissatisfied me. His most serious role then was in Seabiscuit, but his performance was not the crux of the film, not the engine that runs all the gears. Here, Maguire has tapped into the dark side of himself, something that I never knew he had in him. Usually playing a neighborly fellow, Maguire here in Brothers looks more sophisticated, his face squarer, his features hardened. His gritty portrayal of a traumatic veteran reminds us of Robert de Niro in The Deer Hunter. With his head steady and eyes jolted, Maguire comes forth as a ticking time bomb once he returns home. You know he is going to "go off." It is just a question of when and how. And how he goes off makes his performance in Brothers the greatest he ever pulled off. As Brothers alternates between American home and Taliban home, from the words of Roger Ebert, "The prisoner scenes are handled with a ruthless realism, showing Sam placed in the grip of a moral and emotional paradox that makes it necessary that he commit acts he will never forgive himself for." This is, without a doubt, Maguire's deepest role and Brothers is proof that he is an extraordinary actor, stimulating and arresting from the very beginning, one of the greatest surprises from actors.

This trio, Gyllenhaal, Portman, and Maguire, is the core of the film's thematic materials. They assist the film in exploring contrasting human behaviors of guilt and happiness. When Sam returns home, he is greeted with joy. He himself no longer feels it. Always known as the better brother, Sam treats his guilt with self-destruction, contrasting his brother Tommy who fixes himself by developing a sense of self-righteousness. Truly, the film studies the chemistry of this pair of brothers. Furthermore, Natalie Portman moves in as additional enhancement of the confrontations. Like Ebert's words, "Portman is the emotional heart of the story, as mothers are for so many families."

In conclusion, Brothers has accomplished greatly. It is a successful drama that tells the familiar story of a scarred veteran returning home. In spite of the film having decent technicalities and music, Brothers is an emotionally crafted drama, maybe melodrama, that strives with a terrific script and well-written dialogue. Furthermore, the true heart of Brothers lies among the heart-striking performances from all three leads. Maguire, Portman, and Gyllenhaal have all raised their levels in this intensely raw piece. It is as grim as it is realistic, dark and enthralling, an observant war drama that triumphs through characterization and emotionally-charged atmosphere.


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