Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews

Laura Clifford 

Captain Sam Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal) is about to be redeployed to Afghanistan for another tour of duty. His wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), stoically stands by her man and, though not wanting him to go, supports his military career. His ne’er-do-well brother, Tommy (Toby Maguire), just released from prison, arrives on the scene and is nothing like straight-as-an-arrow Sam. Still, they are “Brothers.”

This remake of the excellent 2004 Danish film by Susanne Bier and is faithful to the original screenplay by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen. Sam is a dedicated marine who has seen the horror of combat. Duty calls upon him again and he returns to his unit on the Afghan front. At home, Grace gets by caring for their two daughters as Tommy resumes his old ways. Then, the unthinkable happens: Grace receives word that Sam is dead.

Though her grief is nearly unbearable, she hunkers down to make a new life for her and her daughters, Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare). Tommy, sensing Grace’s vulnerability, turns a new leaf and tries to help his sister-in-law cope with her loss. He helps fix things around the house and becomes a friend to her and a real uncle to the kids. They settle into a chaste family life where the only physical contact between Tommy and Grace is a single kiss.

Unknown to them is that Sam was not killed in a helicopter crash but taken captive by the Taliban. He and the only other survivor of his troop, Private Joe Willis (Patrick Fleuger), are taken to a remote terrorist hideout where they are subjected to terrible torture, pushing Sam beyond all humanity. Then, fortune shines upon him and he is rescued and returned home. It is not fortune, though, that bathed Sam in its light but an inner demon that threatens to rip him and his family apart.

“Brothers” is not a pleasant film. However, it does delve into the inner emotions of its characters and how circumstances irreparably change their lives. We meet with Sam and Grace as a happy couple, well adjusted with two adorable, smart children. We feel their love for the girls and each other and the remorse over their pending separation. When Sam returns, though, the loving home becomes and emotional battlefield and the emotions take a very different turn. The actors are uniformly good and deliver convincing, sympathetic performances.

Beside Portman and Gyllenhaal, Toby McGuire is solid as the bad brother turned good. Exceptional are the two girls, Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare, proving that director Jim Sheridan (“In America”) has a genuine talent for working with young kids. They are believable and funny, lending dimension to what could have been cute, background siblings. Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham play the Cahill brothers’ parent, Hank and Elsie, and help make this a true ensemble effort.

Techs are all first rate and help visualize the mood, often dark, of the story, adapted from the original screenplay by David Benioff, Lensing, by Frederick Elmes, music, by Thomas Newman, and the rest of the behind-the-camera artists and technicians make this an American film. “Brothers” stands solidly on its own. I give it an A-.

I was every bit as surprised by Irish director Jim Sheridan's ("My Left Foot," "In America") choice to remake Danish director's Susanne Bier 2005's motion picture "Brødre" as I was by Werner Herzog's reimagining of "Bad Lieutenant."  "Brødre" could hardly be improved upon, but in transplanting the action from Denmark to Wisconsin via an extremely faithful adaptation by David Benioff ("25th Hour," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), if nothing else Sheridan will have both introduced this tale to U.S. audiences who missed the art house release and prove his uncanny ability to coax amazingly nuanced and naturalistic performances from young actors (two young girls, as it turns out, just like in his "In America").

I'll forgo a plot synopsis, as the film is almost identical to the original and my review for that film is linked here -  The only noticeable change I detected was actually a bit of a lapse.  In the original, the wife's kitchen is in mid-remodel, but cabinets, etc., are present in boxes.  Here a  younger brother with no money is able to get three contracting buddies ("My Name Is Earl's" Ethan Suplee, Arron Shiver and Ray Prewitt) to conduct a mysteriously financed overhaul.

In Sheridan's version, Tobey Maguire ("Spider-Man") is Capt. Sam Cahill, the older brother and respected Marine who goes through hell to get back to his family while Jake Gyllenhaal ("Donnie Darko") is the younger brother just out of prison for robbing a bank.  Not only are the two well matched as brothers, but Gyllenhaal even bears a resemblance to his Danish counterpart.  Natalie Portman ("The Other Boleyn Girl") has the Connie Neilson role as Sam's wife and mother to Isabelle (Bailee Madison, "Phoebe in Wonderland") and Maggie (Taylor Geare, Natalie Portman's segment of "New York, I Love You").  Sam Shepard ("The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford") is the hard drinking elder Cahill Hank and Mare Winningham ("Swing Vote") is the peace brokering stepmother Elsie.

Sheridan does a beautiful job recreating small town America, one that's proximity to an Army base ties it directly to a far off war in Afghanistan, rendered with equal authenticity. The family resentments, assumptions and inter-dependencies all come through, as does Captain Cahill's heroism and ultimate betrayal of Private Joe Willis (Patrick Flueger, "The World's Fastest Indian") under capture by the Taliban.  The complexity Sheridan inspires in the reactions of two little girls to the adult drama encircling them is one of the film's great joys and the entire cast is terrific, but - and there is rarely not a but with a remake - there are two slight bits of nuance that make the original superior and they have to do with the performances of the American leads.  While Maguire will no doubt amaze with his portrayal of a man acting out out of guilt for a sin he does not know how to confess, Maguire wears his psycho a bit too much on his sleeve, his unravelling all too apparent via his bulge-eyed stare.  Ulrich Thomsen's climatic explosion was all the more shocking for his relatively simmering restraint. In the opposite direction, Gyllenhaal, who really does do terrific work here, is a might softer than the rougher Nikolaj Lie Kaas was, his acceptance by his brother-in-law's previously wary family too swift and his crime too out of character.  Still, had there not been performances to compare these to, there would be little to nothing to criticize.

"Brothers" proves to be an altogether worthy remake of a top-notch film.  Note Oscar front-running Carey Mulligan ("An Education")    in a small role as Private Willis's wife and the always welcome Clifton Collins Jr. ("Sunshine Cleaning) as home base's Major Cavazos.

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