Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, Clifton Collins Jr., Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Bailee Madison, Jenny Wade, Patrick Flueger, Jason E. Hill
Director: Jim Sheridan
New York University - Tisch '12
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." -Douglas Adams
Review By: Lee Loechler
I won’t lie, I expected Brothers to be oscar-bait. From its intense premise to its emotional acting, it seemed as though the filmmakers were fishing for awards and rave reviews. The film is actually a remake of the 2004 Danish movie BrÃ¸dre, written and directed by Susanne Bier. BrÃ¸dre was very well received, winning various festival awards and critical praise across Europe. It was never as big in America, mostly due to it’s not being selected as the Danish entry for ‘best foreign film’ at the 2004 oscars. For this reason, the film was redesigned to take place in the U.S., and director Jim Sheridan was brought on board to direct. Although I haven’t seen the original, general consensus is that a lot was lost in translation.
The film rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning, with its heavy handed and clichÃ© expositional scenes. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is clearly a great dad, just look at how he ruffhouses with his kids! Stuff like that, despite the performances, brought the film down and out of oscar contention. The first half of the film especially has a habit of spelling out exactly what it wants you to take from it. But after a while, the film finds it’s footing and does in fact take off.
The story focuses on the Cahill family, of which Sam is the head of house. Sam has a wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), and two daughters, Isabelle and Maggie (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare respectively). His mother and father live nearby, and often join the family for dinner. The film really begins with Sam’s brother Tommy (Jake Gylenhaal) is being released from prison. As he comes to live with the family, we are repeatedly hit over the head with a sign reading “He’s the bad egg!” Not long after, Sam’s platoon is called back to Afghanistan, where his helicopter is shot down and he is taken prisoner, presumed dead by his country. When the family learns of Sam’s ‘death,’ Tommy steps up to support Grace and the kids. Thinking her husband dead, Grace allows herself to become affectionate towards Tommy. Sam is eventually rescued, and returns home, both physically and mentally scarred. The ensuing love triangle is what drives the rest of the film.
The performances in Brothers are first rate. Jake, Tobey, and Natalie all play their parts to the ‘t’, delivering the best performances that the often shaky script will allow. All three are so compelling that I found it very difficult to take sides during scenes of conflict. As a character driven story, Brothers delivers on the merit of the acting. There are some very powerful scenes, one of my favorite being
Even the youngsters put in some great performances. Bailee Madison especially is a name to remember, whereas with a lot of child actors it is clear that they are acting, Bailee is able to channel her character to an impressive degree. She stands her ground against some very talented, adult actors.
I was disappointed with the film’s resolution, as it was strangely ambiguous. There is such a clear conflict, this intense triangle, that I would have liked to see an equally intense resolution. And while we see how Sam’s character arc ends, we are left guessing as to the relationship of Tommy and Grace. Since all three were given equal importance throughout the film, it seemed odd that only one deserved an ending.
The DVD includes a handful of special features, including a director’s commentary, a featurette on the process of remaking the film, and a discussion of film and family with Jim Sheridan. Nothing out of the ordinary, but as always hearing the directors view of his film helped me understand it in a new light. And it was nice to hear about Sheridan‘s background, and his own trouble with family growing up.
Brothers gains momentum as it progresses, and by the end it is quite riveting. All three leads do their danish counterparts proud, bringing life to some pretty stock characters. And though it starts out looking like the oscar bait shown in the trailer, the film rises above that level. But it’s still overly dramatized, overly expositional, and under conclusive.