Review: Brothers

Posted March 25th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Originally on my top 10 anticipated films of the holiday season, I never got around to seeing Brothers when it was in theaters. I had high expectations for the movie based on a compelling trailer that contrasted a drama with elements of a thriller. Interestingly the trailer, while it gave away some general themes of the movie, didn’t give away as much as I had originally thought. The movie was much more of a grounded character drama and was driven by some terrific performances.

When Sam (Tobey Maguire) is killed in an accident in Afghanistan his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to comfort his widow (Natalie Portman) and forms a relationship with her two daughters. However Sam, actually still alive and taken captive, eventually returns home to a world that has moved on without him where he has difficulty coping with the emotional turmoil of what he has experienced.

Strong performances really anchor the film, Maguire shows some range that he hasn’t really put on display before. Gyllenhall and Portman are a little more tempered but do a great job balancing their emotions as they have to hold themselves together for the sake of others. Many times the downfall of good films, the kids are believable and sweet and don’t over-do it. All around the performances hold the film together and really sell it.

There is a role-reversal that takes place but it never feels contrived, with Tommy being presented as trouble and Sam being a family man serving his country. The events of the film change them completely. Despite the time limitations of a two hour movie, the characters develop naturally. It isn’t as if Tommy goes from being a bad guy to a good guy overnight, though whether he was actually a bad guy or just misguided and acting out is uncertain. And it is certainly understandable given what Sam goes through in Afghanistan that he returns a different person. There isn’t a point in the movie where you hate any particular character regardless of their actions, each one is sympathetic and relatable given the circumstances.

The only fault I found with the movie was the passing of time was somewhat hard to gauge. It was made clear that time was moving along as Sam was held for months. In a way that helped the movie because the relationships that were building didn’t feel forced or rushed. I just would have felt more comfortable knowing how long it had been from one event to the next and could have better judged the characters and their actions based on that perspective.

If you enjoy a good drama driven by believable characters, realistic story progression, and strong performances then I would highly recommend Brothers.

Rating: ★★★★☆