Brothers (2009)







THE SCOOP 
Director:  Jim Sheridan 
Cast:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Sam Shepard
Plot:  A young man comforts his older brother's wife and children after he goes missing in Afghanistan. 

Genre:  Drama / Thriller / War 
Awards:  Nom. for 2 Golden Globes - Best Leading Actor (Drama), Best Original Song.
Runtime:  104min 
Rating:  PG for language and some disturbing violent content. 

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Brothers is a film with so much cinematic potential that if under the hands of a proficient director would have been one of the best films of the year. The director in question here is Jim Sheridan, an Irish filmmaker whose (quite) impressive filmography reads My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989), In The Name of the Father (1993), and In America (2002). 

He has failed to win an Oscar despite being nominated six times for directing, writing, and producing. If that is any indication that he has reached the ceiling of his ability, it probably is.
Sheridan shows his competency in dealing with the A-list cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, and Natalie Portman. 

There is no lead actor in this film, and it would be unfair to single out a cast member for praise or scrutiny because this is like a small ensemble piece – the actors complement one another. The characters drift in and out of the picture periodically and at strategic moments with Sheridan emphasizing the psychological states of each. Unfortunately, I see this ‘drift’ as a debatable flaw in the film.

The story is structured such that the film runs on two parallel narrative threads occurring simultaneously. One focuses on Cpt. Sam Cahill’s (Maguire) tour of duty in Afghanistan who later goes missing on a mission. The other focuses on Grace (Portman), Sam’s wife, and Tommy (Gyllenhaal), Sam’s ex-convict brother who are both back home in suburban America. 

The dramatic sequences in the film alternate between Sam’s tortuous ordeal under ruthless insurgents, and the suggested growing intimacy between Grace and Tommy as the latter assumes the role of the ‘father’ in the film.

This fractured style of narrative technique propels the film (too quickly) to an underdeveloped conclusion which is less climatic than expected. The sudden rush towards the ending leaves viewers in the dust as to how we should feel for the outcome. The characters may have reconciled and resolved their complex relationship-cum-psychological issues, but viewers are not convinced that these characters are not just merely temporary stitching up a gaping wound.

With Brothers, Sheridan touches deep into two relevant areas of concern for American families today. One, the consequences of (the Iraq/Afghanistan) war on the family, and second, war’s effect on an individual’s psyche. 

The big question is: “Is a traumatized soldier/family man who returns from his tour of duty any better than a dead one who died for a lost cause for his country?” The acting elevates the film into something decent, but the way the story is told warrants only an ‘above average’ rating.

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)




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