By Mike D’Angelo
Like so much Hollywood product these days, Brothers is a remake—in this case, of a Danish melodrama that was released in the US in 2005. In preparation for the new version, I looked up some reviews of the original—which I hadn’t seen—and discovered I had in fact seen it. This lapse scared me until I saw the new one: In any language, this is a bland, forgettable scenario; ask me about Brothers 2009 (filmed in New Mexico) four years from now and you’ll probably have to press this very review into my hands as proof that it passed before my eyes.
Both versions follow the same schematic trajectory. The brothers in question, Sam and Tommy Cahill, conform to the Lazy Screenwriter’s Rule of Fraternity, which states that if a family has only two siblings of a particular gender, they must be polar opposites. Ergo, Sam (Tobey Maguire) is a dedicated family man and a Marine about to kick off his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, while Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a no-account loser who has just finished a three-year prison term for attempted robbery. When Sam is presumed dead following a helicopter crash, Tommy decides to man up and look after his brother’s stoic wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) and two daughters (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare). But Sam survived, and months of being tortured by the Taliban has put him in a foul—not to say ugly, not to say almost volcanically jealous and suspicious—mood.
Brothers is basically an actors’ showcase, building inexorably to a climactic confrontation that allows the entire cast to yell its guts onto the kitchen floor. Like Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire tends to be more interesting in roles that play against his baby-faced softness, and he does credible (if a bit overstated) work here as a type A personality gone haywire. Gyllenhaal tends to disappear into a vaguely genial haze. Portman’s character is defined exclusively in relation to the two men, giving her precious little to do but look devastated, winsome or frightened.
One thing I now dimly recollect about the Danish version is that director Susanne Bier shot it Dogme-style, with a roving handheld camera and deliberately jumpy editing that served to slightly undermine the narrative’s more contrived aspects. Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father), a style-free classicist, is having none of that—his Brothers unfolds in stately repose, letting the actors do all the jumping and twitching. Unfortunately, that approach places extra emphasis on the script, which David Benioff (25th Hour) has failed to significantly improve in translation.
Directed by Jim Sheridan
With Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14