Brothers Review

Lots of films arise out of wars in every given era, and one of them just happened to win this year's Best Picture Oscar. This is not that film. While the Hurt Locker blended elements of in-war activity with the frustration of life after returning home, Brothers deals mostly with the latter. Post traumatic stress disorder is a common topic of discussion among war films, and has been covered well and poorly in past instances (for a good example see Stop-Loss, for a bad one see Harsh Times). Brothers, apart from having a few scenes of well-done hostage terror, languishes in suburbia for its duration.

Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) has long been the golden boy in his family; he plays the part of dedicated soldier when in combat and transforms into a loving father figure while on leave. Even if you don't envy the military life, compared to his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), his life is the epitome of the patriotic American dream. Sam enjoys his time at home but agrees to a fourth tour and promptly sets back out – and doesn't return. After his chopper crashes, he becomes a prisoner leaving his family to mourn over an empty coffin.

The father of Sam and Tommy can't get over how the wrong son died. It's a typical plot convention, but smartly the film doesn't spend too much time on it past the first 30 minutes. Instead, it looks at the wife Sam left behind (Natalie Portman) and how she copes. First she mourns, and secondly she comes to adapt and sympathize with Sam's charismatic, outcast of a brother. At first he's just helping around the house during the grieving process, but eventually he becomes a companion and father figure for her two children. The wounds are slow to heal, but heal they do.

This seemingly perfect family unit, spawned out of mutual loss, holds itself together by mere threads – which begin to unravel all to quickly when Sam returns from the dead. Had the new relationship between his wife and kids with his brother been the only hurdle to re-acclimating to citizen life, maybe Sam would have been able to cope. Those represent but the beginning of Sam's troubles. The hostage experience has scarred Sam in ways no one around him can understand. He now walks about the mere ghost of the man he was. His children don't feel comfortable around him, and he has lost that charming flair which made everyone he knew consider him a warm and caring individual. His wife, his children, and even his brother no longer recognize the shell of the man they once knew. For that, Brothers deserves high marks. Maguire plays his part brilliantly. He genuinely looks haunted in the film's second half, and for good reason. Gyllenhaal and Portman carry the film well enough, but it's all quite bland until Sam returns. By the time he does, the film is more than two-thirds over and we only see a brief window of the film's most fascinating aspect, namely the study of what war does to the human mind.

The Blu-ray transfer does a little to boost the viewing experience, but only during the Iraq sequences as we witness that hardships faced by Sam in captivity. The gritty camera style during these moments help to cement the validity of Sam's total dysfunction upon returning home. However, as the majority of the film stays safely in the burbs with safely distanced shots composing most of the cinematography, the rationale for a hi-def experience is hard to make. It's a film noteworthy for its performances, but beyond that it will have a hard time contending with the meatier war films to have come out in the last few years.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Director Jim Sheridan gets a hefty amount of spotlight time in both the film's audio commentary and the featurette where he talks about the film's focus on family values and how it shifts during loss, etc. Other than that there's but one other piece on the translation of he original foreign film Brodre into the Americanized version you see here.

"Brothers" is on sale March 23, 2010 and is rated R. Drama. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Written by David Benioff (screenplay), Susanne Bier (original film "Brodre"). Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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