Brothers, based on a Danish film of the same title, seemed like it would be compelling—a shell-shocked man comes home to find his wife involved with his brother—but the execution is on par with a Lifetime Original Movie. The director, Jim Sheridan, who won accolades and Oscar nominations (including wins for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress) for 1989’s My Left Foot and later won jeers and derisive laughter for the 2005 50-Cent vehicle Get Rich or Die Trying, succumbs to the castrated plot points in this movie, and does little to stop it from becoming a pseudo-melodrama with characters that are as interesting as goldfish.

Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal play the titular siblings, Sam and Tommy Cahill, respectively. Sam, although emaciated, is a Marine Captain, soon to embark on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Tommy, conversely, has just been released from prison after serving time for bank robbery. Although Sam has two adorable daughters and is married to the milquetoast Grace (Natalie Portman), there is friction in the family between Sam and Tommy’s father (Sam Shephard) who, on top of a drinking problem, makes it clear that he is proud of Sam and ashamed of Tommy.

When terrorists capture Sam in Afghanistan he is mistakenly reported as dead and Grace begins the grieving process with the help of Tommy, who worshipped Sam and now finds himself lost. Sharing in the tragedy and finding comfort in each other and the relationship between Tommy and Grace reaches a peak when they kiss. When Sam, through one horrible act, is able to escape from Afghanistan and comes back to his home he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoid, and suspects that Tommy and Grace are having an affair. Chaos ensues.

The problems in this movie begin in the casting. While Gyllenhaal plays his part as a reformed ex-con well, Maguire, who is perfect as Spiderman’s meek alter ego, Peter Parker, is totally miscast as a Marine. His squeaky voice, goofy features, and shocking lack of body-mass make him more apt to play a Hobbit-assisting CGI character. Maguire does his best to deliver his lines with the confidence of a battle-hardened soldier, but it is painfully obvious he is not. This casting choice strains the limits of believability. That there is no chemistry among Maguire, Portman, Gyllenhaal, or any of the actors does nothing to help, and is frankly bizarre given Sheridan’s triumph in creating rich characters in My Left Foot.

Brothers’ story is lackluster at best. The army scenes feel un-researched and low-budget. Even the scenes of torture fall flat and fail to compel in any meaningful way. The relationship between Tommy and Grace is muted and stopped short. The movie would have been much better had they actually had sex, or at least a real relationship. Then there would be something at stake. However, the original writers, now abetted by Sheridan, are too keen on protecting their characters from harm and thus protecting the audience from entertainment. Even the horrific act that Sam performs to ensure his escape lacks grit and is in fuzzy focus. What’s worse is that most of the movie is spent setting up Sam’s return to his family, and the payoff, because it has been crippled, is completely unsatisfying. As the credits begin to roll, you find yourself asking “That’s it?”

It’s not that this movie is unwatchable or offensive, it’s just lame—a sanded-down story with above-average dialogue and a couple potentially-interesting characters who are used in the most uninteresting manner. By the time Tommy repeats to Sam the supposedly emotionally drenched line, “You’re my brother,” you will have completely checked out.

There is a small pump in this otherwise dead heart of a movie, and that is the performance of Sam’s daughters, Maggie and Isabelle, played by Taylor Geare and Bailee Madison. These little girls bring a little life and cuteness to the film. Of course, it could be argued that their cuteness is counter-productive to the scenes in Afghanistan, but even if that is true, it is well worth it. These kids are natural, funny, and steal each scene they’re in.

Other than the two little girls, this movie has little entertainment value. In the hands of a different writer or director, perhaps the premise would have become the compelling emotional arc that it had the potential to be, but sadly, almost every aspect of this movie, from the title to the climax, is lifeless.

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shephard

Director: Jim Sheridan

Distributor: Lionsgate

Runtime: 105 minutes

Rated: R



  • Kari
    Kari on

    I have a few gripes about this review.

    The problem with failed expectations lies in the marketing of this movie, not the movie itself. Unlike you, I was pleasantly to surprised to find that this was not another pathetic attempt at a love triangle brought together by death in wartimes (i.e. the cinematic tragedy that is pearl harbor.) The commercials for the film and its trailer make it look like a predictable story of a grieving wife and her brother taking to each other’s beds and finding comfort in each other’s groins. Instead, the viewer gets a much more believable story of a brother trying to make up for the mistakes in his own life by stepping in to take care of the family he failed to get to know after the untimely passing of his brother. Natalie Portman displays her grief in a much more believable way by actually grieving. We see their struggle to accept the death of their loved one rather than simply falling in love with each other and pretending he never existed.

    As for the casting, yes, I was also surprised to see Toby Maguire cast in this role, but to say that he was emaciated implies that all Marines should be jacked up roid-heads, which is frankly immature and short-sighted. He may not have been thick as a Jersey Shore cast member, but he by no means looked like the cancer patient you’re making him out to be either. You do not have to look like Brad Pitt to realistically portray an American soldier… they come in all shapes and sizes.

    Finally, as far as the torture scenes go, what do you think was missing? Not enough screen-time for burning flesh? That’s not what the movie is supposed to be about. It’s not the focus, and it was smart to not make it the focus. All the viewer needed to ultimately gain from those scenes was an understanding of the incredibly stressful and horrific situation that Sam was in while overseas. These scenes were merely set-ups for his bout with PTSD upon his return home, which I feel made for a much more intriguing story than a stupid love triangle.

    To become emotionally invested in this story is easy when you take it for what it is, instead of what you wish it was. It is the story of what happens to an entire family as a result of PTSD, and how it affects each member uniquely, and once you see that, you find a message much more captivating than boobs and explosions.

    My sister Pearl Harbor on VHS if you want to borrow it.

  • Neil Pedley
    Neil Pedley on

    I barely found Toby Maguire convincing as Spiderman, if I'm honest.

  • esjacobs
    esjacobs Post author on


    Kari, while I agree with you that the marketing of the film was misplaced, I would not generalize that all movies are either "Brothers" or "Pearl Harbor."

    The director clearly wanted to go for a some semblance of realism (the kiss instead of outright sex), but with the same swipe sacrificed any real high stakes or reason to care about the story. Realism is good. Realism to the point of being mundane is not. And, I never said that Grace's grieving wasn't accurate or believable. In fact, her resistance to Tommy was one of the more interesting parts of the film. However, as long as you're going for realism, note that the military scenes seem barren of research or realism.

    Tobey Maguire IS emaciated in this film. He DOES look like a cancer patient. He looks deathly skinny, probably the least he has ever weighed in a movie. I know that not all Marines are jacked up monsters, but they usually have some muscle, especially if they are in combat. Just by saying that Maguire was too skinny does in no way imply that Marines must be the incredible hulk, either. That's a logical fallacy.

    What was missing from the torture scenes? How about a director that was too meek to land any punches, pulling all of them back at the last second. There's so much build up, but then the release of tension is as if the director is trying to cover our eyes from the gruesome truth. The director, it seems, was not emotionally invested enough in these scenes to really face them, so why should I be?

    To see why Sam's PTSD freakout was completely anticlimactic, see Chekhov's Gun's_gun. This rule is quite literally violated in this film when Maguire brings out his pistol and then fails to do anything really interesting with it, save for firing it in the air. If they weren't going to use it, why even have it there?

    I judged Brothers completely on what it was, a lame lifetime movie with good acting. Sure, it's about PTSD, but that doesn't make it automatically good.

    And just so you know, I hated Pearl Harbor, too.

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