Even before it was released, Jim Sheridan's BROTHERS was getting buzz as a potential Oscar contender. A remake of a 2004 Danish film by the same name (only... in Danish), Brothers tells the tale of two, you guessed it, brothers, played here by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire.
Tommy Cahill (Gyllenhaal) is newly out of jail right around the same time that his brother Sam (Maguire) is shipping off to Afghanistan for the second time. Aimless and at odds with his father (played by Sam Shepard), Tommy seems to drag baggage and hostility wherever he goes. He's clearly in need of a second chance, and he gets that when Sam's helicopter is shot down and the marine goes missing, presumed dead.
Brothers isn't a war movie, or even very political despite the nature of the characters' lifestyles. Rather, it's a family drama about what happens when Grace, a mother and wife (played by the ever more attractive Natalie Portman) loses her husband, yet gains his brother. Tommy becomes surrogate dad to his nieces in Sam's absence, and we're left to see whether or not he'll also become a surrogate lover for Grace. While these relationships are developing, we see Sam doing everything he can to be strong while suffering torture and torment at the hands of his Afghan captors.
It's hard to deny that the cast and crew put everything they could into this film, which is why it's unfortunate to have to admit that I just was not that into it. Portman, Gyllenhaal, and Maguire all do incredibly strong work, but it's in a film that seemed to lack the necessary sparks that make an alright movie great. The big beats - news about Sam's death, for example - went the more subtle, quietly dramatic route. Presumably, Sheridan directed his cast this way to avoid cliche and over-the-top melodrama, but I found myself wanting more out of these moments than I got. While watching, I was fully aware that Sam was alive and would be returning to his family soon, and the characters seemed aware of it, as well. Grace refuses to believe that her husband is dead due to her wife's intuition, but as a viewer I felt that I was just killing time with her until Sam showed up again.
There are so many character evolutions that have to take place over the course of the film, that a few of them were rushed to me. Tommy and Grace go from disliking one another, yet standing one another as far as family goes, to appearing the perfect (albeit platonic) couple in really very little time - both on screen and within the world of the film. Sam is not gone for too long a time, yet Grace and Tommy seem to grapple with, accept, and move on from his death in that short window. (Of course, to say they overcame his death completely is to simplify things, but the acceptance and moving on phases seemed to come particularly quickly.) I'm aware that the timeline of the film was an important part, yet Portman's Grace is played with a subtlety that left me wanting a bit more, which is how I felt about the film overall.
Would I bother with Brothers knowing what I do if I hadn't seen it yet? Maybe as a DVD rental, but I'd rather spend the $12.50 on dinner or a different movie.