Directed by Jim Sheridan
Released December 4, 2009
Jim Sheridan knows how to portray a family. His 2003 film “In America” brilliantly captures the dynamic of an Irish family struggling to lead a good and fulfilling life upon immigrating to the United States. In that instance, Sheridan chose marvelous performers to portray the parents, Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton, and wonderfully gifted child actors to play the children, real-life sisters Emma and Sarah Bolger, in order to create an alternately heart-wrenching and heartwarming family tale. His latest film tries tackles a different story, one of a family torn apart by the horrors and devastation of war, and does so with altogether less success.
Problems start to develop for the film well before they do for the characters, and their primary root is in the casting choices. Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal look like they could be brothers, and their stunning physical similarity lends credence to the idea of them playing siblings. Yet neither of them is right for his role. Gyllenhaal is hardly trying, while Maguire is trying much too hard. As the bad-boy brother fresh out of jail left to pick up the pieces after his brother is reportedly killed in Afghanistan, Gyllenhaal swaggers and saunters around as he tries to look distant, and it doesn’t become him. Maguire, on the other hand, hardly seems fit for war, and the high-pitched anger that doesn’t quite bellow from him is closer to comical than actually effective. It’s still a fearsome experience to see Sam (Maguire) break down, but hardly as powerful as it is disturbing and, more significantly, off-putting.
The remainder of the adult cast can’t hope to enliven this film either. The usually spectacular Natalie Portman has a scene or two that references her talents, but otherwise it’s a bland, unevocative performance. Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham are on board as the parental units for the two brothers, and despite their impressive acting experience, neither adds much to the film. The children aren’t much up to the task either, and as a result the whole family dynamic just doesn’t quite feel real. Like Maguire’s performance, it just makes things uncomfortable and awkward rather than legitimately gripping or moving.
“Brothers,” which is a remake of a Danish film by director Susanne Bier (“After the Wedding”), has a decently interesting premise, but it relies far too much on the weightiness of its plot to carry the film. No one is trying to make their characters come alive, and the script skips over developing the plot by simply acknowledging that some shift or transformation has occurred without actually demonstrating it. It’s a film that expects the story to tell itself, and that just doesn’t work. Its attempts to represent the effects of war on a person are nowhere near as compelling as those expressed by the far abler Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker” and Ben Foster in “The Messenger.” This film feels like a mixture of those, watered down and devoid of all the elements that made those films worthwhile.
Sunday, December 20, 2009