Movie Review: Brothers (2009)

Brothers (2009)
104 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Jim Sheridan
Starring:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman

Grade:  A-

There is no doubt of the post-war trauma soldiers who have fought in wars bring back to their homes and families.  The way these men and women affect their loved ones after living through terrible events is essentially the big picture in Brothers, a remake of the 2005 Danish film.

This film stars a three-some of talented, young actors.  Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal play the brothers, Captain Sam Cahill and Tommy Cahill respectively.  Sam is married to Grace (Portman) and they have two young daughters Isabelle and Maggie.  Tommy has recently been released from prison for armed robbery.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts to figure out who’s supposed to be the good brother and the bad brother.

The movie takes a tragic turn when the Cahill family is informed that Sam died in a helicopter crash while in Afghanistan.  The death hits hard on the immediate family of Grace and her two young daughters.  But without thinking twice, Tommy offers his assistance to Grace by fixing things around the house and playing with the children.  At first, Grace is cold towards his act of kindness but she soon softens up to him, as do the kids who quickly grows close to Tommy as their father figure.

But Sam isn’t dead.  He’s captured by the Taliban and is put through extreme mental pressure that forces him to perform an act that he will never forgive himself for.  But everything he did was to stay alive with the hope he could return to his family.  The scenes of Sam and another captured soldier are ruthless and disturbing, but necessary to hint to the audience of the emotional strain left inside of Sam.

This is where the film is the most compelling.  When Sam returns home he is greeted by his loving family, but you can read the expression on his face.  Something is different.  Something has changed.  Grace explains it to her daughters that he’ll “get better” soon.

Sam begins to have suspicion of what happened between his wife and his brother while he was gone.  He tries to get a confession from both of them.  Grace admits that her and Tommy kissed, but that was it.  Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t believe them when they deny his allegations.

In a truly suspenseful scene at the dinner table during the youngest daughter’s birthday party with the family, tensions rise when the daughters declare they prefer Tommy instead of Sam.

The character study of the three leads is fascinating.  The things that this family went through and how all of their actions and thoughts are justified is what makes this film so good.  No one could understand the torment that Sam was going through.  Because of that he couldn’t talk to anyone about what he did and that made him beyond lonely, even inside of his own home surrounded by his family.  And on top of that, he fills his head that Grace and Tommy have been sleeping together.  That’s enough to make anyone snap.

Grace was juggling a lot on her plate as well, feeling guilty for opening herself up to Tommy and for allowing him to step inside her family so freely.  But she was thinking of her children and how they desperately needed that father figure around.  Meanwhile, Tommy was trying to find himself inside a family with a disapproving father.  He wanted to feel like he was doing some good and needed the rewards.

The ending is too smooth in my opinion, but the film as a whole leaves a mark once it’s completed.  It’s a film about the chaos that is balanced between love and loss, guilt and happiness, revenge and retribution.  Here is a mature film that is well-acted and well-written.  One of the better war films in recent history.

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