Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movie with Abe: Brothers

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.



Richter Scale said...

I have to disagree, I actually liked this movie (except for some clunky writing and directing). The one I have to completely disagree with you is that the acting does nothing for the film, because there are two performances that are so captivating, you don't look away from them, even though you want to. One is Tobey Maguire (who deserves his nomination( and the other is Bailee Madison, who plays Isabelle (the older daughter). She displayed so many complex emotions, many times without even speaking, looking at a complete stranger on his father's face. And, even in the scenes where these two actors had to shout and be more over-the-top, I felt it was perfectly timed and delivered after watching all the blood boiling for the last hour or so. Tobey Maguire had to destroy the kitchen, because it was a reminder of the fact that the life for which he committed such a horrible crime to get back to didn't even have the decency to stay the same. Maguire nailed that scene in my opinion.

Well, I guess I can't always agree. I also thought Invictus was a very bland film, and the performances were nothing special (I thought Invictus needed more conflict, personal conflict between Mandela and Francois Pinoir, to make the film more interesting).

Movies with Abe said...

Fair disagreement - you liked the films for a lot of the reasons I didn't, and that's perfectly fine. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thanks as always for the feedback.