Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is a career soldier with a wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) and two little daughters (Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare) while his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on the verge of becoming a career criminal. Sam is his soldier father Hank's (Sam Shepard) clear favourite and Tommy is the black sheep. Soon after Tommy gets out of jail, Sam is sent for duty in Afghanistan, where his chopper is shot down and he's missing in action, presumed killed. The troubled Tommy is drawn to Grace and the little girls and feels protective of them for Sam's sake - but emotions get complicated and family conflicts bubble along, until a new development triggers a dramatic flashpoint.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you like to have your heart wrenched out in the cinema, this is for you. Even though it's a remake of the outstanding 2004 Danish original directed by Suzanne Bier (released here in 2006), Brothers carries a mighty payload of drama, wrapped in layers of multiple relationships. Yet for all its complications, it's really quite a simple premise - but I'd be doing readers a disservice to spell it out here. It's worth seeing and discovering it all as it unfolds on the screen.
What I can say, though, is that the performances are shattering; Natalie Portman rises to the occasion with a characterisation that is emotionally supercharged without being hysterical; she never overdoes it, which in the circumstances is a real achievement. Tobey Maguire has always had that edgy thing going on under the surface, and here it's revealed for all its screen glory. He's haunting as Sam. Jake Gyllenhaal makes his Tommy vulnerable - like a lost son - and yet when the chips are down, he shows his guts. Both little girls are as sensational as the girls in the original, and that's saying a lot. Sam Shepard gives us a complex father and old soldier, willing but unable to unleash his emotions.
Jim Sheridan clearly respects the original but he isn't constrained by it in this English language remake. Like the Danish film, the war setting is Afghanistan (and the vicious, cruel, primitive Taliban do not look any better this time round), and the emotional landscape hasn't changed either. Nor has the theme of the film as expressed in a line from the original: Life is neither right nor wrong, good or bad.
Review by Louise Keller:
The family dynamic is the focus of this powerhouse of a remake of Suzanne Bier's 2004 Danish film in which the personalities and differences of two brothers take monumental shifts. The emotional impact is monumental too, as we observe, connect, understand and are inextricably moved by the circumstances, events and reactions as life takes harsh, unexpected turns. Jake Gyllenhaal is Tommy, the irresponsible black sheep of the family; Tobey Maguire is Sam, Captain of the Marines on active duty in Afghanistan, loving family man and perfect son. Both give superlative performances laced with great complexity as their characters are thrown into turmoil. Responsibility, resentment, jealousy and guilt are the film's main themes sharing with us raw emotional chaos at the highest level. It's hard-hitting and involving as it leaves us with the gift of contemplation.
Try mimicking your brother for a change, Sam Shepherd's Vietnam vet father Hank Cahill tells his wayward son Tommy, just released from prison. Two brothers. Two personalities. Two lives. Two hearts. But as events unfold, we learn they are not as different as we first think. Natalie Portman's character is aptly named Grace, Tommy's childhood sweetheart, wife and the mother of their two young daughters. Portman wears her heart on her sleeve as she displays her every emotion: she might be the pivot of the brothers' emotional see-saw, but she also experiences first hand the gamut of highs and lows. Maggie (Taylor Geare) is her pretty, lovable child; Isabelle (Bailee Madison) is the older, serious one who senses the emotional shifts and needs reassurance. Director Jim Sheridan elicits extraordinary performances from them both.
David Benioff's screenplay is commendable as it captures the essence of Bier's original collaboration with Anders Thomas Jensen. The plot details may be specific but the story is universal. It's about big things and small things. One thing is for sure, these are characters we immediately care about and understand full well why they react as they do. The less you know about the specifics of the dramatic arc the more rewarding the cinematic experience. The impact of the explosive climax however when blood boils in the snowy winter chill, will stay with you forever. These are characters about whom we care and our journey is as unexpected as life itself.
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BROTHERS (2009) (MA)
CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Clifton Collins Jr, Bailee Madison, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Taylor Geare, Patrick Flueger, Jenny Wade, Carey Mulligan
PRODUCER: Michael De Luca, Ryan Kavanaugh, Sigurjon Sighvatsson
DIRECTOR: Jim Sheridan
SCRIPT: David Benioff (original 2004 screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen, Susanne Bier)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes
EDITOR: Jay Cassidy
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tony Fanning
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 18, 2010