tue 18/06/2024

Brothers | reviews, news & interviews



Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal duke it out on the domestic battlefield

Brothers in arms: Tobey Maguire, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal in Jim Sheridan's Brothers

Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard and, in a tiny role, Carey Mulligan: yes, yet again the stars are lining up to live through the agony of America's presence in Iraq and (here) Afghanistan.

Closely based on Brødre, by the Danish director Susanne Bier, Jim Sheridan's remake tells of the sibling rivalry between a decorated Marine and his feckless jailbird brother. Bier's lo-fi film - not an official Dogme production but marked by its make-do-and-mend aesthetic - has been Hollywoodised into a sleek melodrama stuffed with grandstanding actors and angling openly (if, judging by the critics' awards so far, forlornly) for Oscars.

It's striking that the two most critically and commercially successful recent films about US militarism have both been crowd-pleasing genre movies. One is Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, in which the big-name actors are bumped off within minutes of first appearing on screen and any moral message is buried deep in blood, sweat and explosions. The other, by Bigelow's ex-husband, James Cameron, is Avatar, whose clever palimpsest of button-pushing themes includes the imperialist shock-and-awe, fight-terror-with-terror blitz on an alien race (the dialogue references are explicit), all wrapped up in a phantasmagorical firework show of special effects.

brothersBrothers, by contrast, isn't exactly a bad movie; just another earnest, well-intentioned chamber piece pegged on a Very Important Issue in the tradition of In the Valley of Elah or Lions for Lambs. Maguire plays Sam, the elder, responsible brother who goes missing in action, presumed dead. Gyllenhaal (pictured left) is the black sheep who, in his absence, discovers a new maturity as a replacement paterfamilias and potential lover to his wife (Portman), Shepard their hard-drinking, ex-Marine father, a grumpy, grizzled stereotype who makes no bones of the fact that he reckons the wrong brother died. Predictable tensions ensue when Sam returns (it's revealed early on that he was not dead but a prisoner of the Taliban) haunted and broken by the memory of having been forced to commit an unspeakable act to save his own life.

As Tommy usurps Sam's place, Brothers explores the delicate balance of the family, making some telling, if rather obvious points about how it imposes certain roles on its members and how the gestalt shifts when one disappears and the survivors have to negotiate new places for themselves: Sheridan has a strong track record for this sort of theme with My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and In America. Bier's film was made in 2004 and, six years later, the story remains sadly just as relevant. In truth, though, neither version of Brothers has much interest in the big political picture. "Who are the bad guys in this?" it's asked in Sheridan's film."The ones with the beards," pipes up one of Sam's small daughters. Out of the mouths of babes....


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