Ah, the holiday season. The weather gets cooler, the streets light up with decorations and the children play and try not to think about the tantalizing presents under the tree that sit there mocking them, waiting to be opened. It's the most joyful time of the year, so who wouldn't want to see a movie about a tortured soldier returning from the war in Afghanistan and going ballistic on his loved ones due to post-traumatic stress disorder? 'Tis the season!
Brothers follows Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire), a soldier who is again being deployed over to Afghanistan to fight the ongoing war. He leaves two little daughters and his beautiful wife Grace (Natalie Portman) behind. While over there, his helicopter is shot down and he is pronounced dead back home. Two messengers tell Grace the bad news and she is distraught. Meanwhile, Sam's brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), has just been released from prison for robbing a bank, but he seems changed and takes it upon himself to take care of Grace and her two daughters. Over time, he becomes close to them. The kids love him more than anyone and Grace finds herself attracted to him, which is evidenced by a shared kiss they have in front of the fireplace one evening. Well, it turns out Sam isn't actually dead. He survived the crash and had been taken in as a prisoner of war. To save his own life, he is forced to kill another soldier and eventually he is rescued and returned home to Grace, but he isn't the same and things take a turn for the worse.
Now, here's what really bothered me about Brothers. When Sam gets back from Afghanistan, he asks Tommy if he had ever had sex with Grace because, after all, he thought he was dead. Instead of just telling Sam that he hadn't and they had only shared one kiss, Tommy just stares at him awkwardly, arousing even more suspicion within Sam. There were many moments in this movie where I felt like problems could have been solved had the characters simply sat down and talked.
But then again, Sam is going through hard times and is suffering through the memories he carries from the war. Perhaps talking would not have helped in this case, but the signs of his slipping grasp on reality were very apparent and steps to help him should have been taken.
The big problem with this is that I've seen enough cases of soldiers returning from war to know that this is not how they act. The film, though not technically a war movie, nonetheless brings up war themes common to the genre, like the aforementioned post-traumatic stress disorder many soldiers struggle with and the idea that many become so accustomed to fighting in a war that they consider it home and have an itch to go back. However, both are handled poorly and merely mimic what other films have already done better. This year's terrific The Hurt Locker already explored the effects on soldiers who have been fighting overseas and many documentaries, including a great one called The War Tapes, has dealt with the mental effects soldiers face when they get back home. Brothers does nothing to differentiate itself and hardly makes any impact at all.
The film is directed by Jim Sheridan, the man behind 50 Cent's film, Get Rich or Die Tryin', which should pretty much sum up the level of quality you'll be getting here. There's simply nothing going on visually and the acting doesn't fare much better. I'm not too quick to point the finger in the direction of the actors, because they are all fine talents and the characters are simply poorly written, but none do anything to make me feel for them, especially Tobey Maguire who basically stands around with bulging, fidgety eyes.
As I've talked about with my friend and colleague Kevin "BDK" McCarthy, the theatrical trailer goes through the film's whole story arc, from the first scene to the last, and therefore I can find no reason to justify sitting through it. I didn't hate Brothers and its messages are admirable, but they are poorly conveyed and the structure of the film is simply too sloppy to warrant a recommendation.
Brothers receives 2/5