Damn you, 2009.
All you should know about Brothers is that seasoned war soldier Sam (Tobey Maguire) heads off for another tour in Afghanistan, leaving his cute wife Grace (Natalie Portman) to take care of their two young daughters. But once Sam is pronounced KIA, his younger brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) quickly steps in to… what? Help out with the kids? Remodel the kitchen? Get laid? All three?
That should be enough to get you into the theatre. But the trailer reveals much more, including a few scenes of Maguire flipping out, and a fireside kiss that looks like more than it really is.
So, here’s the problem: Brothers has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. They are far too many plot lines running around. There’s the ex-soldier suffering from PTSD. The screw-up younger brother. The son vs. father resentment. The love triangle. The brother as a surrogate father to his nieces. And on and on. If the film, and its very talented director, Jim Sheridan, picked just one of these plot points, the movie would be a success.
More issues: we never really find out why Tommy has just served time in prison. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about ambiguity of details, but this is absurd. The characters constantly discuss his crime, but they sidestep the real issue. So, instead of a Million-Dollar-Baby-type-question (I wonder what Eastwood did to piss his daughter off?), we’re left with a SHUT UP AND TELL US ALREADY feeling. Also, anyone who has a loved one that has survived a traumatic accident knows that you do not rush the person into explaining what happened. You have to let their feelings evolve and wait for them to tell you when it is comfortable for them. So Natalie Portman attempting to bully Tobey Maguire into telling her what happened in the war gets really old really fast.
Brothers is based on the much better, much grittier Danish film Brødre. The original is clearer in executing its story (for example, we find out why Tommy was in prison right away, boom, done), and it also gets more refined performances from its actors. Again, don’t get me wrong, Brothers is not all bad. Portman and Gyllenhaal do good work, and while Maguire doesn’t quite get there, his effort is still commendable. But you know you have an issue when the best acting in your film is done by a ten-year-old girl (Bailee Madison, who plays the older daughter).
Brothers is a mild disappointment; just like The Road, it isn’t bad enough for me to discourage you from seeing it, but it isn’t good enough to recommend, either. C+