‘Brothers’ offers poignant examination of strained sibling relationship

By Azia Squire


Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman

Director: Jim… “Brothers”

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman

Director: Jim Sheridan

Studio: Lionsgate

Grade: A-

In an era when overwrought tales of shimmering vampires dominate the big screen, “Brothers” — a remake of the 2004 Danish film, “Brødre” — is a refreshing deviation from the typical, which is a major part of its appeal.

Visceral and stunning, “Brothers” is about two brothers (unsurprisingly) — Sam, a successful Marine (the talented Tobey Maguire) and Tommy, a charming, but reckless ex-convict (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Naturally, the dichotomy between the siblings is what moves the story along. Sam is married to Grace (Natalie Portman), his high school sweetheart, and they have two little girls. Tommy is just getting out of jail, and that’s about all he’s been up to.

When Sam is deported back to Afghanistan, Tommy slips in his place, ultimately keeping Grace sane and bonding with the girls. But when news surfaces that Sam died overseas, Grace falls apart and Tommy works quickly to put the pieces back together. Their newfound closeness has a radical effect on the children and Hank, the boys’ father, played by a perfect Sam Shepard. The chemistry between Portman and Gyllenhaal is gorgeous and apparent, but it’s just as strong between Maguire and Portman, which will leave you torn about which one Grace should be with. Don’t be so quick to let Sam’s supposed death fool you either — the film knows how to keep you questioning while it moves seamlessly through scenes that could easily be in the present or flashback until it opens up like a wound in a shocking revelation.

Though riddled with powerful performances — Portman is gracious as the grieving, confused widow. Maguire is enchanting as the traumatized war hero. Gyllenhaal is simply unforgettable as the misunderstood black sheep of the family — “Brothers” falters where it should be strongest. It’s called “Brothers” and supposedly deals with complicated sibling dynamics, especially because Sam and Tommy are consistently being compared by their father — but the story moves along more like the Sam and Grace show than the Tommy and Grace show, or the Sam and Tommy show. It seems the movie is aware of this too, as both Tommy and Sam make it a point to affirm that they are definitely related at various times during the movie, just in case you forget.

Now “Brothers” surely straddles that delicate line between emotionally complex and emotionally draining, but it’s not an indie movie with a Death Cab for Cutie soundtrack. It’s jarring, and somehow, at 110 minutes, it ends right where the story gets especially interesting. Though it shouldn’t be a three-hour epic, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like the spontaneous ending didn’t do the genius beginning justice.

Regardless, “Brothers” is a must-see exploration of family, grief and war. Move over “Twilight: New Moon,” because Hollywood can obviously make quality films for adults and perhaps should make them more often.