Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Clifton Collins Jr., Sam Shepard
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writer(s): David Benioff, Susanne Bier
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Original Score: Thomas Newman
Running Time: 104 Mins.
Sometimes, just occasionally, a film comes along and grips you, emotionally and through its narrative, if it is THAT good, usually this happens at the least expected times and more often than not it is because all the elemenmts that are needed to truly make a great film have come together. As you may have already guessed Brothers is one of those films, not perfect by all means, but a brilliant film that sets out to tell a story and envelope you in the characters plight so that you become emotionally invested.
Based upon a Danish film, Brodre, Brothers is bound around the lynch-pin of it’s titular relationship between black sheep and all round bad boy Tommy (Gyllenhaal) and family man, marine and apple of his father’s eye Sam (Maguire), but there is so much more going on, as Brothers deals with family ties, death, the burden of relationships and, the key dramatic event of the plot, the effect of war on Sam. To reveal that very early on in the film that Sam is reported as dead is no spoiler as anyone who has seen the trailer or read a synopsis will attest.
Upon Sam’s reported death, Tommy takes over somewhat as man of the house, bonding with his niece’s and all but taking their fathers place in a sense of duty for his past misgivings, from their on in and particularly upon Sam’s return, where having been put through a series of harrowing tortore episodes is a broken and seriously damaged man. To reveal much more of the detail would seriously rob the film of much of its emotional clout, but suffice to say one look at the poster gives you a clear idea of where the story heads on one level, while another has been thankfully concealed.
What really hooks me into a good film is a plot that doesn’t pin-point its trajectory clearly, in short it is full of surprises, with events not signposted and the journey the characters take proving to be as surprising to them as it is to us, and it is in this that the actors have been granted some brilliant material to work with. Director Jim Sheridan is an expert at coaxing out touching and believable characters from his actors, one only need watch In America’s Paddy Considine or Daniel Day Lewis In The Name of the Father for evidence of this, and here the three central actor’s put in their best performances thus far.
While Maguire, who is shaking of his Peter Parker persona, and showing some real grit, particularly in the final third, that is garnering award’s buzz, but equally as good in the more subtle and less showy roles are Portman and Gyllenhaal, who both transcend their film star looks and become the characters. All too aften it is hard to forget you are watching Hollywood star’s in a film but on this occasion they achieve it with seeming ease, something which further adds to your emotional investment. Also of note are the child actors playign Sam’s daughters, initially a little too cutesy we are rewarded with some truly intense scenes, and the older of the two is heartbreaking as she longs for her “old” daddy to return rather than the emotionally scarred man that Sam becomes.
Brothers is also to be rewarded for over-coming that all to common element of succumbing to stereotype in its bad brother/good brother scenario, and for not following the route you might well expect, and whilst structured exceptionally well and achiveing the goal of showing, with conviction, what Sam endures at the hands of the Taliban, the Afghan Terrorists themselves become the only stereotype. Stock Arabs with no discernable features , bordering on pantomime villiany at points. Though it is prudent to point out that upon their final torment of Sam it really doesn’t matter, as the damage is irrevocably carried out and they have served their purpose in the narrative, leaving you shaken.
While it does deal with the war in this way Brothers is not a war film, and I was pleasantly surprised it avoided commenting on the war in Afghan one way or the other in an overt way, as so many attempts to this point have done. More akin to In The Valley of Elah, Brothers is about the effect of emotional turmoil on a family, and yes it is about Brothers.
The first truly great film of the new decade, Brothers hooks you with the combination of great storyteling and even better characters, each complimenting one another to make an immersive film that feels truly original in it’s take of something that could well have fallen into cliche and stereotype.