The recently released DVD Brothers is one of those films that’s supposed to make you ponder, appreciate and sympathize with a classic protagonist in American cinema- the decorated American soldier. Starring Tobey McGuire as Sam the marine, Brothers is the American version of Suzanne Biers Danish film Brødre. As Sam goes off for his fourth tour of duty, his family knows that it may be his last yet have no idea how their lives will forever change upon his return.
Just before Sam departs his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) returns from a stint in the slammer. Not having any of Sam’s prized possessions- a wife, kids, career and the respect of his parents and community, Tommy is the antithesis of his brother Sam. Although the archetypal good son vs bad son dynamic is nearly immediately apparent, surprisingly Brothers at its core is not about sibling rivalry per se. Even though family melodramatics test their relationship like never before, these brothers seem to have a mutual like if not love for one another. This was a good writing choice for a trite theme and absolute predictability was avoided.
While war is a major component in Brothers, the real battle is on the home front for soldier Sam. After nearly losing his life after being captured by the Taliban, he returns home to find he’s nearly lost his family to… his brother! It’s here that the story goes awry as Sam suspects that his wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) is now sleeping with Tommy. Considering that Grace and Tommy barely had a tolerant in-law relationship that develops into a near romantic one came across more like an episode of the Jerry Springer show and fell way short of any convincing allure between the two. Grace and Tommy’s kiss and not tell is where the crux of the story is weakened and unfortunately becomes the center piece for the duration of the movie. In the process the more interesting account of Sam’s now haunted character took a back seat to a disingenuous angle. Though, admittedly, the twist was easily seen coming, it was still disappointing that Brothers took the dull typical love triangle route.
If there was one thing that saved Brothers from being a really good TV movie of the week caliber picture - it was due to Tobey McGuire. Tobey McGuire deservingly so received a best actor Golden Globe nomination for his compelling portrayal of man wrecked with emotion from wartime. I didn’t see this film until after the Oscars and now my dismay with George Clooney’s nomination for best actor in Up in the Air was reinforced. That wasted slot easily should’ve been filled with a Tobey McGuire nomination for his most stunning and best performance to date! Another performance worth mentioning was that of Sam and Graces daughter Isabelle played by ten year old actress Bailee Madison. Madison delivered one of the most genuine heartfelt scenes the movie had to offer and let it be known that she was a force to be reckoned with on screen by totally holding her own with the much more seasoned all star cast.
Despite Tobey’s terrific performance (and that of Bailee) Brothers overall doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it so desperately wanted to. In addition to the lame love triangle, Brothers also suffered from its inability to capitalize on the audience’s well preparedness to empathize with this saga. While real life turmoil and battle linger in the Middle East, it’s easy to blend all soldier’s stories together. Brothers’ narrative was no exception and when it could’ve been a delivered with some distinction, it didn’t. Brothers is a moderate piece of work that missed opportunities for what could’ve been a poignant film.