In keeping with one of Hollywood’s proudest traditions, Brothers is the 2009 American remake of the 2004 Danish film, Brødre. While the vast majority of American remakes of international films are generally pointless, this particular title goes far beyond what I’d ever have expected.
Brothers stars Tobey Maguire as Sam Cahill, a Marine preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, Natalie Portman as his wife, Grace, and Jake Gyllenhaal as his wayward brother, Tommy.
Sam is captured while on duty and presumed dead, and his grieving wife and brother become close in the months that follow.
The film follows both Sam’s struggles as a prisoner of war, and Tommy and Grace’s evolving friendship as the younger brother steps in to help his brothers apparent widow and his nieces. It’s an odd juxtaposition, and Brothers builds the dramatic tension perfectly by cutting from Grace and Tommy enjoying family moments to Sam literally fighting for his life and then back again.
Of course, Sam is eventually rescued, and his return to society isn’t an easy one, all things considered. Here is where Brothers really comes into its own; helped along by Maguire’s superb acting.
Many people will have caught a clip of the scene in which the tensions boil over, causing Maguire’s Sam to demolish his own kitchen and scream himself hoarse at Portman’s Grace, all of which while sobbing uncontrollably. Even though that particular scene is truly something to behold, what’s not often mentioned is the subtleties of Maguire’s performance: upon returning home, we see him mostly holding it together before cracks begin to appear in his facade. One or two small outbursts build up to the final kitchen-smashing, gun-waving scene in which Sam finally snaps, and while Maguire portrays directionless rage in a truly convincing manner, it’s the quiet, soft-spoken moments of instability that really stick.
Natalie Portman also delivers an outstanding performance as Grace, who goes from fearful to grieving to relieved to terrified without a so much as a single line or expression out of place, and the usually stellar Gyllenhaal ends up taking a backseat to his co-stars.
It’s not all about the acting, though. Brothers‘ use of music was another thing that sets it apart, with music used during the transitions from family life to warzone to further highlight the jarring differences between the titular brothers’ experiences.
Brothers is deeply uncomfortable in places, and takes a hard look at just how strained family relationships can become. There’s also something in there for everyone; two different types of father-son relationship, the shifting father-daughter dynamic, the many different ways that a marriage can falter, and of course, the titular fraternal link – meaning that whatever your deep-seated family issues might be, odds are Brothers will give you some food for thought.
It can be a hard watch in places, and director Jim Sheridan’s take seems at times a little impersonal, but it’s ultimately an incredibly meaningful experience. It also manages to make up for its lack of originality with multiple flawless performances, thoroughly earning Brothers its place in our Hall of Fame.
Summary: Brothers is as uncomfortable as it is mesmerising, but tells a story both plausible and supremely dramatic. How Tobey Maguire didn’t win an award for his performance is beyond us.