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Brothers

*Brothers (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

I hate the fact that — because movies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to draw audiences — I feel I have to say, "Oh, don't worry, Brothers isn't really about our soldiers in the Middle East, it's about what's happening once they come home."

Sure, this is a movie primarily about family, and sure, the experiences that change Tobey Maguire's Marine in Afghanistan and inadvertently alter his family back home could have resulted from something other than war. But let's not be disingenuous: Part of the immense power of this Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown) adaptation of Susanne Bier's 2004 Danish film of the same name comes from the knowledge that the drama we see unfolding here is not something unique and isolated. It represents the stress fractures pulling apart many military families.

So, yes, in that respect Brothers is a war movie. Deal with it.

It's striking how closely Sheridan's film — with a script by David Benioff (The Kite Runner) — parallels Bier's, down to specific instances of sharp dialogue, and even more striking how different the two films feel nevertheless. There's an intensity, an emotional edge-of-the-seatness here that overshadows the original (which also happens to be a very good film).

It's half a decade later, for one thing, and the soldiers are still there fighting. Sheridan captures that layering of weariness with war through his extraordinary cast, who carries it like a physical weight. In this remarkable showcase, Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman remind us again that they are three of the most expressive, compelling young actors working today. Their skills almost sneak up on you, surprising you with emotions you didn't see coming.

In one early scene, the Cahill family sits down to a tense dinner. One brother — Gyllenhaal's Tommy — is just out of prison. The other — Maguire's Sam, a Marine captain — is off to Afghanistan again, and eager for it. Grace, Sam's wife (Natalie Portman), is the glue quietly holding together the family: their small daughters, Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare), their grandfather, Hank (Sam Shepard), an ex-Marine himself, and his wife, Elsie (Mare Winningham).

The roadmap of the story is laid bare here, in the things no one can say and the things they can. There's a triangle of deep bitterness, disappointment and resentment between Hank and his sons; and it's here that the amazing performance of Bailee Madison begins to reveal itself. In some ways, the girl is the canvas upon which the family drama paints itself.

The actress, who just turned 10, is able to express the terrible inner turmoil of a child watching her family fall apart. I've never seen a child so young be so effective. She is heartbreaking.

What may be most startling is that even if you know the grand sweep of the story — as I did from the trailer and my familiarity with the Danish film — you cannot know how wrenchingly potent Brothers is without seeing it through. To say that Sam is lost in Afghanistan and presumed dead, and that his family mourns him and moves on, and then has to readjust when he is found alive, is no spoiler. Because it is in all the eloquent, authentic details of the people, not the plot, that this movie works so well.

scene@csindy.com

  • A powerful film that represents the stress fractures pulling apart many military families.

Film Details

Brothers
Rated R · 110 min. · 2009
Official Site: brothersfilm.com
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writer: David Benioff and Susanne Bier
Producer: Michael De Luca
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, Mare Winningham, Clifton Collins Jr., Carey Mulligan, Bailee Madison, Patrick Flueger, Jenny Wade and Luce Rains

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