Brothers (Jim Sheridan, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed at the Riviera.

  Brothers is a film about a military hero who is preparing to depart on a fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, while his ex-con brother,  recently released from prison, has zero ambition in his life.

Tobey Maguire plays Capt. Sam Cahill, a considerate husband to his wife Grace (Natalie Portman), and loving father of two young daughters.  His younger brother is Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal), an all around loser just released from prison for armed robbery.  The two brothers are close and loving to each other, despite being opposites.

Grace can barely tolerate Tommy’s presence in her home, while their father Hank (Sam Shepard) has very little use for this son at all.  Sam is called to duty, his helicopter crashes, and his widow is notified.

Suddenly Tommy shapes up, gives Widow Grace a brand new kitchen, plays surrogate daddy to the two kids, and the relationship with Father Hank miraculously heals.  Meanwhile, Capt. Cahill and his subordinate Private Willis, have been captured and are being tortured.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  The writing/directing leaves a lot to be desired.  Everything is wrapped up nice and tidy in the first half of the film, setting us (the audience), up for what’s about to transpire in the second half.  Nothing new, and fairly predictable – my disbelief just wasn’t suspended – I felt like a member of the audience, being set up.

Mom Grace,  newly-widowed sister-in-law, who loathed the presence of her brother-in-law (moments before) now is so lonely for Husband Sam, she welcomes the ex-con into her home with her children.  She is also shown tossing and turning in bed, in order to confirm later dialogue with Sam in which she tells him “I couldn’t even get out of bed.”   Dad Hank, who previously hated the sight of his younger son (a few scenes prior) is soon slapping him on the back with praise.  The two little girls who never knew their uncle Tommy, now have attached themselves to him, and so much so, they’ve forgotten about Dad Sam.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Sam makes it back home traumatized, now thinking his brother has moved in on his woman, and his daughter confirms his increasing paranoia.   Sam goes berserk, and with angry retaliation he destroys the new kitchen – damn it!  Well, needless to say, Sam ends up in the loony bin.

There are some emotionally intense moments, effectively portrayed by Tobey Maguire, and his performance pretty much justifies the film.  Maguire is excellent in portraying the war vet with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he has indeed been nominated for a Golden Globe.

BUT, are we really that inept as an audience that we need to have everything blatantly established for us?  Perhaps I’m wrong – the woman sitting behind me was so moved, she sobbed uncontrollably in the second half (not kidding).

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