Monday, January 4, 2010

Brothers **

Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman
Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare
Clifton Collins, Jr., Carey Mulligan

If you have seen the Danish film "Brothers", you will have a hard time swallowing the sweetened American remake. Story's the same: Sam Cahill (Maguire) is deployed to Afghanistan days after his brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) is released from jail.
His wife Grace (Portman) is left behind taking care of daughters Isabelle (Madison) and Maggie (Geare), when news arrive that Sam has been killed, Grace begins to get close to Tommy until
Sam returns from the dead.
Sheridan tries to emulate the humanity he created beautifully in "In America" (and he does get splendid performance from his young actresses) but "Brothers" mostly feel like it's pretty actors playing house.
Portman, whose quiet sensitivity isn't enough to muster motherhood gravitas, underacts her way through every scene reaching a point of indifference.
Gyllenhaal, who has the most interesting character in the movie, suffers from lack of nuance. This might not be his fault because the screenplay has shaped Tommy into the archetypal "bad seed" who has visible tattoos (Sam has one on his chest meant to be only seen by Grace we can assume), gets drunk, smokes and changes Thomas Newman's score whenever he appears from tranquil piano motifs to rockier tunes.
Maguire also has trouble conveying the moral dilemma that plagues Sam in the film's second half. One would assume that the actor's barely there look would serve him to evoke loss, but it only makes him seem like he forgot his dialogues.
In all the major problem with "Brothers" is that it suffers greatly from its change of setting. The Danish version inspired encountered feelings as the soldiers were participating in a war they never even started and are serving as proxies from their army's previous commitments.
When translating this to a nondescript American town (when one character is asked where did they grow the answer is "twenty miles from here" keeping the anonymity of the town as ways to inspire a feeling of-it could happen to you- universality) the plot looses its ability to question the system and is reduced to what almost all Afghanistan/Iraq films have come to in the last decade: a politically correct tale that empowers the army while trying to grasp the pain people in the outside world go through.
If not why then should Sheridan linger more on the death of an American soldier than the equally brutal killing of an Afghan?
And why is it only the death of said American that traumatizes Sam?
What director Susanne Bier achieved with the original movie was a raw evaluation of where the world stood when a global power sucks the rest of the countries into its sinkhole, what this "Brothers" offers us is a simplistic tale of Oedipal complexes (at the service of Shepard who plays the Cahill's patriarch) set to a U2 song, because if Bono sings about it, then it must be true.


Danny King said...

I enjoyed this film. I think the ending was rushed and a bit flat, but the rest of it was very effective melodrama in my opinion. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I haven't seen Bier's Danish film. A lot of negative reviews (including your's) have mentioned Sheridan's inferiority to Bier's film, and perhaps because I was able to go in with a fresh mind, I was able to enjoy it more.

Castor said...

At least, I like the movie poster...!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Not surprised you didn't like this, like Danny I didn't see the original and I generally like Sheridan [let's just forget his last film] and I actually prefer this to In America, but I haven't seen that since it was 2003 so I can't be sure. Spot on about the child actors though.

Jose said...

Hahaha I think everyone's forgotten about the 50 Cent movie Andrew. I'd forgotten he directed it and was re-surprised when I realized it all over again.
So yeah, I recommend the Danish movie a million times more, it's even about the age thing. Portman and Maguire always look like kids, while Connie Nielsen in the original was just such a strong presence. Perhaps it was a bad casting?