DIFF ’09 Review: Brothers
Brothers has a compelling narrative hook at its core. The only problem is that it plays out too much like a heavy-handed family melodrama, otherwise Brothers is a thoughtful and tense war drama with top-grade performances by all three leads. The film revolves around Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Sam (Tobey Maguire). As Tommy returns [...]
Brothers has a compelling narrative hook at its core. The only problem is that it plays out too much like a heavy-handed family melodrama, otherwise Brothers is a thoughtful and tense war drama with top-grade performances by all three leads.
The film revolves around Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Sam (Tobey Maguire). As Tommy returns from jail once again after a shake-up with the authorities, Sam departs for military duty in Afghanistan leaving his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and kids behind. But then news arrives of his helicopter being taken down by enemy fire and Sam is reportedly dead. Grace is devastated and so is Tom who is forced to change his dangerous ways and take up responsibility. As they share the same grief, they slowly grow close to each other. But Sam isn’t really dead. He has been captured along with another soldier by terrorists and when he harrowingly makes it back home, things take a turn for the worse.
The core conflict is very relatable – in times of grief and death, people close to the deceased end up bonding together. And director Jim Sheridan handles the pivotal scenes of the news of death and the aftermath adeptly. The film intercuts between sequences of the family dealing with Sam’s death and Sam’s harrowing suffering in the mountains with the terrorists and the choices he is forced to make. A much-needed injection of humor is inserted into the narrative that helps relieve the tension and is greatly helped by Gyllenhaal’s comedic chops. At the same time, Sam’s ordeal is gritty and brutal and some people may have problems with the brutality displayed.
But a good part of the film plays out like a typical TV melodrama and here’s where it falters a little bit. The scenes in the centre are very static and standard and sometimes come across as heavy-handed in the point they’re trying to make, especially with the subplot between Tommy and his father. What saves this is the dramatic tension underlying in the third act of the film. One particular dinner conversation after Sam returns home is one of the most taut and nail-biting moments of the year mainly because the tension is escalated to the highest possible point. The film’s strongest moments lie in its brilliant final reel where Sam reaches his emotional breaking point. But then again, the film’s ending is slight and anti-climactic in resolving all the loose ends and questions about certain character’s fates.
Acting is the strong point here with powerful performances by everyone involved. Gyllenhall is charming yet believable as a changed family man and manages to lighten the tone of the film in its second half. Natalie Portman has a passive role but brings it great chemistry with the actors. The real shining star here is Tobey Maguire who gives an Academy Award worthy performances of an unhinged military man having to cope with traumatic memories and family secrets as he returns home. You have never seen Maguire in a role like this before and he proves in the third act his acting prowess and emotional range which was unfortunately hidden from us all this time throughout his career. Another strong point is the score. Low key music is used whenever needed, and the most pivotal scenes in the film have no score at all but instead a low thump that builds up the tension to great effect.
Brothers is a movie that isn’t afraid to go ask difficult questions but could be less melodramatic in execution. However with outstanding performances by the leads, anyone looking for a well-made war drama should look no further.
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