Brothers - Blu-ray Review

'neither overwrought nor undersold... Sheridan combines all of the films themes and tropes brilliantly'

There are so many things happening in Jim Sheridan's Brothers (a remake of the Danish film Brødre) that it could quite easily have been a mangled mess. Aside from the plot machinations of Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhall) trying to support brother Sam's (Tobey Maguire) wife (Natalie Portman) and children whilst the latter is 'absent' in Afghanistan, there's musings on the life of a soldier, on what it means to be 'family', on love and lust and, perhaps most importantly, on what it means to be dead.

Sheridan sets about his task with a mixture of subtle inflections and obvious metaphor, making just the right choices at just the right times to produce a film that is neither overwrought nor undersold. The slow-burning drama combines all of the films themes and tropes brilliantly, drawing them to a close with perfectly judged tension in a final third which features two of the best directed 'uncomfortable' scenes I've ever seen; one, typically, at a dinner party, the other on the front lawn of Sam's house.

With so much resting on Portman and Gyllenhaal, it's rather amazing to report that they have next to no chemistry. This, however, is kind of the point. Tommy and Grace are thrown together out of loss, rather than love, and as such their only mutual feeling, only thing in common even, is a feeling of resentment and heartache at the absence of Sam. Tommy's antidote to this is to throw himself at helping, in particular, Grace's kids to grow up whilst her symbiotic relationship with Tommy, who starts the film being released from jail, both troubles and comforts her in equal measure.

In all of this, Maguire, miss-cast as the hard-ass solider of the family, gets rather left out although his later scenes, and final scene in particular, are poignant and well judged. Generally though, whenever Sheridan switches the focus to him, it's too easy to feel like you're missing out on the more involving family drama playing out at his former home. Like no actor before him, Maguire faces a difficult challenge in shrugging off the shackles of a franchise which threatens to sink the rest of his 'serious' career.

With the need to tie everything up, Sheridan struggles slightly with character focus come the conclusions and its notable that the Brothers father (Sam Shepard), so prevalent in earlier segments, is almost completely marginalised come the end. This though, can't detract from a drama which avoids several obvious clichés whilst delivering roundhouse blows to your gut with pummelling frequency. And, as if we didn't know this already: that Gyllenhaal chap could be Hollywood's next truly great actor.

Look further...

'Lesson Learned: War is bad. I wish Hollywood had told us this sooner' - Movie Cynics, 2/10


  1. Personally for me the plot looked boring that's why I didn't take time to sit down and watch it but exactly your review makes me change my decision. Thanks for reminder.

  2. i've been thinking about renting this one! thanks for the review! :)

  3. Thanks for the link - despite the negative-sounding quote, I did kind of like this. I agree that Maguire was rather miscast, though he did his best with the part. It's one of those flawed movies I'd rather watch or re-watch than something more solid but less interesting. I enjoyed Portman in this - though hard to see her as a mom of two little girls (which was kind of the point, which I liked) she really sells "wholesome" here (in part, paradoxically, because the character isn't perfect), something not necessarily easy to do.

  4. Glad you enjoyed this Sam! I thought it was a very compelling melodrama with great work from the cast.

  5. Lesya - In all honesty it sat on my shelf for over a week because I felt exactly like that. It's definitely well worth a watch though, I pretty much loved it.

    Aspiring X - No problem - go for it!

    MovieMan - I did read your whole review and it was absolutely more balanced than the quote I took suggests so apologies that it's a bit unrepresentative. Absolutely agree on your points here though - know what you mean about Portman and despite its flaws I'm really looking forward to revisiting it already.

    Castor - Cheers Castor! Agreed with pretty much all of your review - really loved it.

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