Director: Jim Sheridan
Screenwriter: David Benioff based on Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen’s motion picture Brødre
Runtime: 105 mins.
Australian release date: 18 March 2010
This is a film about the consequences of America’s involvement in Afghanistan, which like Vietnam, continues to bring home the body bags and no resolution. Jim Sheridan’s version of Brothers, which is an excellent re-make of Susanne Bier and Thomas Jensen’s Brødre, explores the horrific effects on those who suffer the most, namely the soldiers and their families who are left to pick up the remnants of battle.
In a performance which has been described as the best of his career, Toby Maguire (Sam Cahill) takes us on a painful personal journey. He plays a returned serviceman, with a secret, who was believed to be missing in action when his Blackhawk helicopter was shot down in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, back in Middle America, his childhood sweetheart who became his wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) and their two charming daughters Isabelle and Grace (Bailee Madison and Taylor Greare), are trying to come to grips with their loss. Portman delivers a believable and yet restrained performance and the girls are excellent delivering some very sweet moments allowing us to view life through such innocent and yet perceptive eyes. They are a loving close-knit unit who are adored by their grandparents and in-laws (Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham).
However, as in all good yarns, there is always a bad egg and this case it is Sam’s brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is released from prison not long before Sam takes off on his fourth tour of duty. The brothers have a relationship that is typical between siblings in that they tolerate each other, but Tommy is a disappointment to the rest of the family, particularly his father, Hank, who considers him a no-hoper. Hank aligns with Sam because he is fighting for his country as he did previously in Vietnam.
The story develops at this point as Tommy tries to make amends by renovating the family’s kitchen and bonding with his brother’s children. The attraction between Tommy and Grace is kind of inevitable as, let’s face it, no-one thought Sam would be coming back and they bond in their grief. However, they are pretty restrained under the circumstances.
Upon his return, after a period of harrowing incarceration in Afghanistan, Sam begins to fall apart. He is non-communicative and paranoid about his brother’s connection with his family and this leads to some pretty tense and unsettling moments on screen. We are left in no doubt as to the effects of war and, as in battle, there are prisoners. The brothers have to come to terms with the emotional wreckage they have both experienced and try and sort out the shifting family dynamics so they can move on with their lives. This is exemplified when Sam says, ‘I have seen the end of war. The question is…can I live again?’