Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Brothers

Dir. Jim Sheridan
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 104mins

As my friend and I walked out of our screening of Brothers we couldn't help but both point a finger on what we felt was wrong with it. Not that either of us didn't like it, much to the contrary actually since we both liked it quite a bit, but it was the ending that left us unsatisfied. Now, I am not a fan of writing reviews in which I express my obvious* wisdom** and let the director know what they should have done, but so strong was our argument that I can't help but bring it up. More on that later.

I have not seen the Danish film by Susanne Bier, Brødre, that Jim Sheridan's film is a remake of - although it was immediately placed atop my DVD queue when I got home - but I am lead to believe that he and screenwriter David Benioff have been incredibly faithful. I imagine many people will be in a similar situation and will be going to see Brothers based on the accumulative star power of Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal rather than their fondness for the original so I don't think that harms one's critical assessment of the film.

Having been sent away for another tour of Iraq, Tobey Maguire's Tommy Cahill is shot down and presumed dead, leaving a grieving wife (Natalie Portman) and recently-released-from-jail brother (Jake Gyllenhaal). Anyone who has seen the original film will know what follows and those who have not will surely be able to guess, but may be surprised at the extent. Once Tommy returns home - this is not a spoiler since Maguire is the first credited cast member and it is all over the marketing - he sets in motion a series of romantic and familial troubles.

While Portman is incredibly miscast - surely she is the hottest young mother of two in a Hollywood movie - the rest of the cast is the main reason you should see the film. Maguire received the bulk of the praise, even receiving a Golden Globe nomination, and he is fine even when Tommy descends into madness, I thought it was Gyllenhaal who came out best out of the three major players. Even then, the best work is left to the supporting players. Mare Winningham is truly wonderful as Maguire and Gyllenhaal's stepmother, while Sam Shepard has some fine moments as their father. A dinner scene late in the movie allows Bailee Madison to shine as the eldest, angry Cahill daughter and in a tiny role is Jenny Wade who makes quite an impression with her limited screen time.

The film generally works quite well and manages to spin a considerable about of drama out of the quite formulaic storyline. However - and I did warn you this was coming - I think Sheridan and Benioff did a disservice to the film by revealing the secret behind Maguire's character and what happened to him in Iraq. The film makes no secret of what goes on and I can't help but think that the film would have packed a more substantial punch if they had have left it a secret and allowed it to be revealed to the audience at the same time as it is revealed to the characters in the movie. As it is the film ends of a relatively flat note. It builds and builds, but then just ends because Maguire's big confession is little more than telling us something we already know, making it land with a dramatic thud. B

Now I need to see Brødre

* Ahem
** AHEM!


Paul Martin said...

I didn't have a problem with that reveal, though I see your point, Glenn. I also didn't have a problem with Portman, though I thought she was made a little glamourous at times in a slightly distracting way, but not fatally so. I like all three main actors and thought their performances make this very watchable in spite of some fairly big flaws.

Quoting from my review, these bothered me:
1). While captured, Maguire's character does something shocking. It didn't seem plausible to me, but it's central to the rest of the story.
2). At a family gathering, the six year old daughter says something to her father that a child of that age could not possibly know to say.
3. A letter is written at the start of the film, and the timing of its opening really brings to mind soppy melodramas like The Notebook and Dear John (though I confess to having seen neither).

The music is a little heavy-handed at times also, but again, not fatally so. I think it's good to go to this film go with no particular expectations and allow oneself to take in the strong performances.

Glenn Dunks said...

I wouldn't have had such an issue with it if it wasn't used as the film's big climactic moment - Maguire and Portman's scene at the end - so, in being done like that, it lacks any emotional oomph for an audience who have already been made both aware that not only is Maguire alive, but also what he did.

Portman isn't miscast in a performance way - she's quite nice, actually - but, I'm sorry if this is sexist, but I don't think any mothers of two in a small town would look as glamourous as that. Throwing on an oversized sweater doesn't make her look any more realistic.

Paul Martin said...

Your point certainly makes sense. It'll be interesting to read your report on how Biers handled the structure and the reveal.

As you mentioned, Maguire has top-billing which may have affected how the story was structured. If Maguire's character just disappeared at the start without us seeing what happened to him, we'd be thinking how come he got top billing. I know, because that's what I initially thought, until we followed his character in captivity.

James Traill said...

I also had issues with the ending (pretty obvious, heavy handed, a bit OTT), but the mid-section was an excellent portrayal of some of the issues veterans are facing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maguire is quite excellent in the nuances, looks, anger and emotion of a soldier with PTSD. My slight quibble with your review is the reference to 'madness'. Especially since this is one of the more accurate (at least for a while) cinematic portrayal of this condition