Reviews: Brothers (Blu-ray)

Brothers is a 2009 drama starring Tobey Maguire (Spiderman), Jake Gyllenhall (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain) and Natalie Portman (Garden State, Closer). The film, an intense examination of the effects of war on family, was written by David Benioff (writer of the excellent 25th Hour and The Kite Runner, as well as the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and directed by industry veteran Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In The Name Of The Father). This American production is a remake of a 2004 Danish film entitled Brodre, a film which covers almost exactly the same territory (both films focus on the conflict in Afghanistan, for example).

Maguire was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Sam Cahill, brother of Tommy (Gyllenhall), husband to Grace (Portman), father of Isabelle and Maggie (Bailee Madison, Taylor Grace Geare) and enlisted Marine. It’s easy to see why Maguire received the plauditz and the nomination (he lost to Jeff Bridges for his powerful performance in Crazy Heart) – Sam Cahill is easily the most mature, layered and emotionally charged performance he has given to date. The film follows the diverging lives of two brothers; one (Sam) goes to war, the other (Tommy) is released from jail. While Sam is away, Tommy takes care of Grace and the girls to surprisingly good effect.

While serving Afghanistan, Sam and compatriot Joe are captured by the Taliban. Word back home, however, is that his chopper has crashed and he has died in battle. Through their shared grief, Tommy and Grace bond and slowly a strange relationship begins to form.  Sam is forced to endure unimaginable horrors during his stint as a prisoner, and these events serve to influence his life post-war.

There are some incredibly tense scenes, wherein all facets of filmmaking fire on all cylinders – the acting is excellent, the direction perfect and the writing realistic. Maguire’s scenes in Afghanistan are perfectly-weighted, a good mix of fear, anger, and resignation. The scenes at home with Tommy and Grace feel most real during the moments of high tension; to be honest, I never truly believed their romance. However, in a film about grief and trauma and war, that’s probably not a bad thing.

Brothers isn’t a brilliant film overall – some of the quieter, happier moments lack emotional resonance and the story isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but nestled amongst the grit and grime are moments of pure gold.

I’m happy to report that the Blu-ray features an audio commentary by director Jim Sheridan, as well as two featurettes; one is entitled ‘Jim Sheridan: Film and Family’ and documents the directors relationship with cinematic depictions of family and his expression of that theme, and the other  is called ‘Remade in the USA: How Brodre became Brothers’ and chronicles the adaptation process. If you missed Brothers in theatres, the Blu-ray is definitely the best way to experience it.


review by Ben Vernel


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