Saturday, December 19, 2009

A movie review: Brothers (2009)

Brothers (2009)

Director - Jim Sheridan
Runtime 105 min; R
Tommy Cahill - Jake Gyllenhaal
Grace Cahill - Natalie Portman
Captain Sam Cahill - Tobey Maguire
Hank Cahill - Sam Shepard
Isabelle Cahill - Bailee Madison
Maggie Cahill - Taylor Geare

The ensemble cast of the new war and family themed film Brothers is about as good as any this year. I left the theater with a feeling that I had just watched a very real slice of actual life, somewhere not too far away from where I live, and that these people exist everywhere in the world, just as they are, flawed and human. I am no expert in praise of direction, but it seems fitting to me that Jim Sheridan deserves a lot of credit here, and I hope the maker of In the Name of the Father (1993) is honored this year.

Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is preparing to return for a tour of duty in Afghanistan, once again to leave his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and two daughters behind. The timing coincides with the release of his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) from prison just a few days prior. Throw into the mix their alcohol abusing and Vietnam Vet father Hank (Sam Shepard) and this film has all the makings of a serious family drama.

Let me start by stating my view that this film is really only 25% about war and the consequences of war, and 75% about what it means to be a family. There has been talk about an anti-war message but I don’t really see that coming through too strong, more along the lines of war is bad in general, and bad things happen because of it. In the case of this movie, Sam is presumed dead after his vehicle goes down in battle, and in the aftermath of grief it is Tommy who steps in to help Grace and the children cope. Tommy is flawed, a failure at everything he has ever done in life, and Hank is quick to point it out and to also make clear that Sam is the hero of the family, the one to be praised, not the criminal and quitter that Tommy has always been. Grace, having never liked Tommy, slowly allows him access to her life, if for nothing more than someone to share the grief load with, and soon Tommy begins to prove his worth.

No sooner does it seem that Tommy has his life on a better track, helping with Grace and the kids and receiving the praise from his father he never had, does Sam reappear, having been held captive all along and now, months later and a funeral ago, unsure of how to cope with the situation. What did Sam have to do to get back to his family? What emotions are the brothers feeling toward each other? How do a wife and children accept a man back into their lives who is not the man they once knew?

Psychological issues are deep in this film, and though Maguire is being singled out across the board for his break-through performance, it really is the entire cast, including a wonderful job with a range of emotions by Bailee Madison as daughter Isabelle, that brings this film together. This is not a film about a beginning, middle, and end. This is a family in motion, with real issues, and nothing is easily answered.

Unlike the excellent film from this year The Hurt Locker, which deals entirely with war at its worst, and in the zone itself, this film takes the horrors of war and transcribes them onto the American family in ways that no other film in recent memory has done. I would not be surprised to see multiple award nominations in multiple categories for this film.

**** and ½ out of 5

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