Distributed by: Lionsgate
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I saw the previews of Brothers, I was wowed by the performance of Tobey Maguire. I had seen other movies he had acted in, but had never seen such gut-wrenching anguish displayed by this actor in the past. I wanted to see the film in theaters, but couldn't quite get there. So, when I saw the DVD of Brothers in the store the other day, I couldn't pass up checking it out.
In Brothers, Tobey Maguire is Sam Cahill, a United States Marine Captain and loving family man. His wife, Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman), is his high school sweetheart and they have two young children, Isabelle and Maggie (Bailee Madison and Taylor Grace Geare). Sam has just learned that he will be going on another tour in Afghanistan, but before he heads out, he makes certain that his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), just released from prison, gets settled in. Sam and Tommy are polar opposites of each other, but they love each other deeply and share the bond of a dysfunctional military family life. Grace doesn't much like Tommy and considers him to be trouble, but she tolerates him out of respect for her husband.
When Sam's Black Hawk helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan, he is believed dead. His death helps seal a bond between Grace, grieving her loss and missing her husband, and Tommy, also grieving and using this opportunity to become a better person. Meanwhile, Sam and one of his team, Private Joseph Willis (Patrick Flueger), have been captured and are systematically tortured by the enemy for months. Then, just after Sam is forced to commit an act he will regret for the rest of his life, the US military swoops in and rescues him.
Returning home should have been a joyous affair for Sam, but, racked by guilt over what happened in Afghanistan and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sam can't seem to enjoy being home. Everywhere around him he sees misery. Watching Tommy play with his kids and interact with his wife, Sam concocts and affair in his mind between his wife and his brother. He can't seem to relax around his own children. One night, feeling alone and desperate and hurting from a defiant and angry outburst by his daughter, Sam finally goes off the deep end. Can Grace and Tommy bring him back from the edge before it's too late?
Based on a Danish film called Brødre, Brothers is an emotional study of family and what the post traumatic stress of war can do to the family structure. As we watch the film, we learn that there is a strained relationship between Tommy and his father (Sam Shepard), a decorated military man himself who served in Vietnam. Sam followed in his father's footsteps and became the light in his eyes, while Tommy, seeing what war had done to his father, became a defiant rule breaker and the black sheep of the family. When Sam returns home, his father observes a storm brewing within him that he, himself, experienced upon returning from Vietnam. It was that same feeling that caused him to lash out against his family, driving a wedge between himself and his son. He tries to talk about it with Sam, but never truly gets his point across.
All of the performances in this film were terrific, but it is really Tobey Maguire that shines in this film, truly revealing his depth as an actor as Sam Cahill. His performance and the other characters reaction to it really drives the film and helps get the point across as to how dangerous and destructive it is not to recognize and treat PTSD can really be. Casting did an excellent job in this film - there is incredible charisma between all of the actors in this film and you can truly believe that they make up one big family. Thus, when Sam returns from Afghanistan and is ambivalent and even angry towards this family, its such a striking change in character and in that family dynamic as to be incredibly poignant.
The DVD version of Brothers contained a couple of special features, including director's commentary, trailers and two interesting featurettes. One featurette, Remade in the USA: How Brødre Became Brothers, was quite interesting. It was nice to see the ways in which the creators of Brothers tried to keep with the original feel of Brødre while not making an exact duplicate of the film. The featurette, Jim Sheridan: Film and Family, focused on the director's vision for this film, keeping it a film about the family dynamic instead of the war itself.
Brothers is an incredibly moving experience. The film is emotionally dramatic thanks to an amazing cast and excellent storyline. The film, despite what some seem to think, is not about war, but about family members and how trauma, redemption and love can affect the family dynamic. This movie is a must see for fans of emotionally heightened drama and for anyone who has known someone suffering from PTSD.