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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reviews by Hubie Goode: Brothers


Tommy : Jake Gyllenhaal
Grace : Natalie Portman
Sam : Tobey Maguire
Hank : Sam Shepard
Elsie : Mare Winningham

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Jim Sheridan. Screenplay by David Benioff, based on the m tion picture “Brothers,” written by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated R (for language and some disturbing violent content).

The little movie that could. This film was released on December 4th and I just got around to it this week. Amazingly, the theater was very full, even after all this time. That’s an unusual thing from what I have seen, and probably due to not only the wide selection that has been available as we traveled through the holiday season, but also the lagging economy and high unemployment that most people are trying to get away from for two or more hours.

You might think at first that this would be a “chick” flick or even something “soapy” in a movie format, but you would be mistaken. Badly mistaken. Here a family is transformed from its usual makeup by the father leaving for military service in Afghanistan, just at the same time his brother is released from prison.

Tobey Maguire is Captain Sam Cahill, the father afore mentioned who is married to lovely Grace, played by Natalie Portman, and they are parents of two sweetheart little girls named Isabelle and Maggie. The brother, Tommy, is Jake Gyllenhaal and he has just served time for armed robbery. They are, of course, the good son and the bad son. Their father (Sam Sheppard) makes no private matter of his love for one and disdain for the other.

It’s not a problem to reveal that the good son is reported killed in a chopper crash while serving. This is where you might think this was a soap opera played out on the screen, for the “bad” son does his best to help out his brother’s family while finding himself in the unenviable position of perhaps picking up with his brother’s wife where the “good” son left off. I am happy to report, melodrama does NOT ensue.

Natalie Portman’s Grace handles the crisis with heartfelt maturity and no flailing of arms and breaking of dishes, instead she quietly morns in her own way while focusing on the hurts and pains of her adorable daughters. When the moment does come for Grace and Tommy to perhaps explore budding feelings that have developed as they have been in close proximity while pulling the weight of family loss, her logic and self control nevertheless win out.

That’s not what this movie is about though. It’s about the return of Sam after a period of time spent in captivity by the Taliban, his mental and emotional scarring received from being put in a position of almost unimaginable torture and grief. During his captivity, he and another soldier, a private under his command are starved and tortured in the hopes of doing propaganda for the Taliban to send back to the states. Sam orders his private to tell them NOTHING. And indeed, even though he is burned and beaten, he follows orders. This leads the Taliban to decide that the private is of no use to them, only a drag on their resources. They then force Sam to come up with a solution to their problem, at gun point.

Sam returns home, wild eyed and haunted by things only he can see inside his own head. Despite his family’s joyus reaction to having him home and alive, he is not present, he cannot respond to them as he would seem more concerned with staring into space or out of windows at first. Eventually he begins to relax and then also begins to suspect that Tommy and Grace have been intimate. He doesn’t put it in those terms, but I have to say if you are going to use the F-bomb to great effect, this would be the time. (Are you listening Seth Rogen?) Unfortunately, in his state of scarred suspicion and guilt he can’t believe anyone’s denials and this escalates within him as he deeply resents the card that life has played him. It’s unfortunate because, with not real target to take it all out on, he “swings for the cheap seats” at his own loved ones.

Toby Maguire digs deep in his big emotional break down scene as the underpinnings of his character’s sanity finally begin to collapse. A brand new kitchenette freely built by Tommy for Grace is summarily destroyed in a fit of uncontrolled pique that leads to gun play, police, a stand off and a tense scene that follows that had the whole theater expecting the worst at any moment. Riveting stuff.

I don’t think I could be an actor, I couldn’t do what Maguire does to himself, to myself.

Mostly this movie is about unforgivable guilt, and the inability to “unsee” what you have seen. As Sam drowns in his own mental darkness, his brother seeks to find his Dad’s love and the acceptance of his family who has no doubt branded him as the bad one. Portman is not just another pretty face either, she shows heart and spine while caught in an untenable position.

An undeniably adult movie, that is it will be beyond the scope and breadth of a younger set, which doesn’t try for the cheap TV direction and mass appeal for ticket sales as do most. It’s somber, thoughtful and not a little too overstimulating at times, but that’s the hallmark of a well done piece. As the consistent box office over the last month is proving, people WILL pay to see excellence on a small scale.

4 out of 5 Stars

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