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
Runtime: 105 minutes