dir Jim Sheridan
scr David Benioff
prd Michael De Luca, Ryan Kavanaugh, Sigurjon Sighvatsson
with Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Clifton Collins Jr, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, Carey Mulligan, Patrick Flueger, Ethan Suplee, Jenny Wade
release US 4.Dec.09, UK 22.Jan.10
09/US 1h50
He ain't heavy: Maguire and Gyllenhaal

portman shepard collins
See also:
BRØDRE (2004)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Brothers This remake of Susanne Bier's 2004 drama is an equally powerful story of family tensions and how violence affects more than just the victim. But the original Danish film's strained melodrama translates here as well.

Sam Cahill (Maguire) is a loyal Marine getting ready to head back to Afghanistan with his men. His wife Grace (Portman) is trying to be strong for their young daughters (Madison and Geare), but his stern father (Shepard) couldn't be prouder. Just before he ships out, Sam's black-sheep brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) gets out of prison and, when Sam is reported killed in action, he rises to the challenge to help care for Grace and the girls. But several months later Sam is found, and what he experienced has left him dangerously paranoid.

The best thing about this film is the way it so carefully depicts the internal tensions within families. The two scenes during which everyone gathers for family dinners are simply astonishing, as the intensity builds unbearably while we wait for someone to explode. Both of these scenes are packed with raw, electric energy and especially fine performances from the entire cast. Unfortunately, the whole film isn't this surefooted.

The main problem is that the story continually drifts into overstatement, which is matched by some over-egged performances. Maguire is the main culprit, with his wild eyes and strained neck (even his haircut screams "I am now a tightly wound crazy person"). Opposite him, Portman and Winningham (as the brothers' stepmum) are elegantly understated, and even the slightly over-acting children hold their own. On the other hand, Shepard delivers a terrifically brutal performance as a man defined by his stoicism, while Gyllenhaal is a blast of fresh air as the only person in the movie who feels fully human.

This general lack of subtlety that's the biggest surprise here, as both Sheridan and Benioff know better. The film is slickly shot and impeccably assembled, but it's also manipulative and painfully obvious, constantly signposting its themes. Even so, there's enough ragged interaction in here to keep us gripped. Although it's a bit of a surprise when we realise that Tommy's the only character we care about.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Dec.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall