2009 | Director: Jim Sheridan (“In the Name of the Father,” “My Left Foot,” “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”) | Writer: David Benioff (“The Kite Runner,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”)
Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers,” based on Susanne Bier’s Danish film of the same name (in Danish), is a disjointed oddity. On one hand it strives to present itself as a reworking of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” but then turns its Odysseus into a boiling antagonist of sorts. On the other hand, it wants to emphasize the Horror of War as a person-changing entity, and then it forces that plotline into the overarching story like jamming ill-fitting puzzle pieces together. On the third hand, for you three-handed mutants out there, it’s a slice-of-life tale of a bad boy who sees the light, then finds himself irrelevant once the chips fall. It’s at least two distinct movies–each somewhat moving, even if a little trite–in one, canceling each other out at every opportunity.
When golden boy Sam (Tobey Maguire) heads back to Afghanistan for a repeat tour, he does so under the loving gazes of wife Grace (Natalie Portman), ex-military father Hank (Sam Shepard), and fresh-out-of-prison brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal, in easily the best performance of the film), who finds it just as hard to adjust to life with his disapproving family as it is to fit back into society. When Sam’s chopper goes down and he is presumed dead, Tommy becomes the glue that holds Grace’s crumbling life together, and a new father figure to his brother’s two young daughters.
Only Sam isn’t dead; he’s been captured and stuck in a well with another soldier by Afghani rebels, and there he is tortured to breaking point, becoming gaunt, goggle-eyed, and morally negligent as a result. But when he returns to his overjoyed family, his traumatized heart, jaundiced by what he has seen and done, senses only betrayal around him, especially in the form of his reformed and newly-beloved brother.
Its storylines all carry considerable emotional heft, as do its understated performances, but “Brothers,” for all its slow-burning tension and palpable discord, feels as though it’s missing a good 20 or more minutes from its running time. Sheridan tries to say something about the soul’s irreparable change after war, but that’s lost in a plot that builds and builds to points that frustratingly never reach catharsis. Maybe it’s because it’s constructed on some pretty well-worn character archetypes, and maybe it’s that the characters’ bottled-up feelings are truncated in a script that seems to favor neither show nor tell. “Brothers” touches on major themes of loss and guilt, but it merely touches on them when it should have wallowed in their mire, and the sum of all the bluster is as disappointingly inconsequential as you can get.
Rating: Two of Five Stars