Brothers is an English language remake of a Danish film I haven’t seen, nevertheless it feels a little familiar. It’s an Afghanistan themed story of an American military family. One son is a Marine, like his father. He goes off to Afghanistan to fight, leaving his wife and children behind. The other brother, recently released from prison has never served and is the family disappointment. When the news comes of the death of the brother serving abroad, family relationships are put under even greater pressure. The widow and her children grow closer and closer to the other brother who finds a new sense of vision and responsibility.
SPOILER ALERT – SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH TO AVOID MEDIUM LEVEL PLOT SPOILER
Having no familiarity with the original film, I don’t want to spoil what comes at all. Suffice to say – especially if you’ve seen the trailer – it all gets very emotionally complex. The serving brother isn’t dead, he was captured. He, and all the family relationships are inevitably changed on his return. What follows that is a striking and surprising process of pressure on relationships being cranked up to and and beyond breaking point
As you would expect from Jim Sheridan, director of In The Name Of The Father, this film is good on many of the little of things – the rituals of military influenced masculinity, the communications through deeds more than conversation, the passion and suspicion hidden behind simple words and actions. This is aided by some well-cast and effective performances – Tobey Maguire is just right as the marine brother, Jake Gyllenhaall brings the right sort of confusion and guilt to the other brother, while Natalie Portman strikes just the required level of feminine uncertainty in a world of masculine assertion; before this film I hadn’t quite realised how much she can communicate with silence and simple words. The supporting cast of family and colleagues all work well too. It’s not a political film – which is unusual for Jim Sheridan. That’s fine, tough. To make a good film about a war, sometimes you need not to focus on the war itself, which Sheridan does effectively.
I had no idea where this film was going in the final third, and it was all the better for that. Yes its melodramatic, but that’s no bad thing. War is a very big thing, and while this has none of the grandstanding of Platoon and the like, the big emotions and events of the melodramatic climaxes do justice to the shadow this war and the events around cast over a generation’s view of the world – even those who will not fight. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a good film, convincingly painting a miniature of family life on a big emotional canvass. To learn something of what war abroad and conflict at home does to a family and a generation, all wrapped in a plot whose final destination is a real surprise, this is as good a place as any to start.