Published Dec 03, 2009A remake of Susanne Bier's excellent 2004 Danish effort, Brødre, Brothers heavily mines its source, repurposing the tale for an American audience without sacrificing the story's main tenants and dramatic thrust. The result is one of the year's most emotionally opaque, well acted and beautiful films.
Model soldier, husband and father Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) prepares to return to Afghanistan, saying goodbye to his wife (Natalie Portman) and two daughters just as his wayward brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), is released from prison. The inevitable twist comes when Sam is presumed dead, leaving Tommy and Grace to forge an ad hoc family replete with a hint of romantic tension. Oh, and then Sam returns, damaged but alive (don't worry, it's in the trailer). Drama ensues.
The plot draws on The Odyssey and Henry IV Part I, recasting Odysseus as an American soldier and Penelope as a hot cheerleader turned mother, with Sam enduring hardships while trying to make it home (also, see Cold Mountain). As well as a lovable miscreant (i.e., Prince Henry via Mark Ruffalo's You Can Count on Me character) looking for redemption.
At the outset, the leads all play archetypes: the good son, the bad son and the dutiful wife. Although, following heartbreak, the paradigms are flipped on their heads. Maguire shines in the work's meatiest role, devolving from staid to explosive, and Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as a damaged charmer. However, Portman's nuanced performance in a relatively thankless role is the film's best.
Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) has a talent for pacing and subtle erudition, slyly keeping the focus on his characters and utilizing the plot's inherent gravitas. Symbolism abounds, from off-camera dog barks to the best balloon breaking in recent cinema, but never pedantically.
Sheridan and his fantastic cinematographer (Frederick Elms) have created an understated yet stunning film, utilizing gorgeous wide-angle shots of American winterscapes and sunset Afghani caves to provide a balm to the action's weightiness. Dense, intelligent and moving, Brothers is one of the year's best films. (Alliance)