Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.



Review by Mark David Campbell

As long as there have been wars, there have been war films.  But comparatively few films have chosen to focus on the toll war takes on families of young men and women who are sent to fight in a far-off land.  Brothers not only does this, but it does it better than just about any movie of it’s kind than I can remember seeing.

Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is a Marine Corps captain about to ship out to Afghanistan once again.  His wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) and his two young daughters understand the whole “call of duty” thing, but would rather have Sam home for good.  But before he leaves, he ends up having to pick up his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was just released from prison.

Though they are brothers, they couldn’t be more different.  Their father (Sam Shepard), a former Marine himself, delights in praising his hero soldier son at the expense of the other son, who is definitely the “black sheep” of the family.  Things take a turn for the dramatic when two Bereavement officers (much like in another current terrific film, The Messenger) show up and announce that Sam has been killed in action.  And though the family now begins to grieve, we in the audience know differently, that Sam has actually been taken prisoner. 

Through the grieving process, Tommy, Grace and her girls find in each other what the other has been missing, and draw very close together.  And then, across the globe, we see Sam have to make a truly horrible choice in order to survive.  He is released, and shipped back home.  But what should have been a joyous homecoming is anything but, as we can see that something inside Sam has been broken, perhaps forever.  And you can imagine what the sight of his family cozying up to his brother does to his fragile psyche.

This is an extremely tough role for anyone to play, and it’s to Maguire’s credit that he is able to do it so convincingly, shedding any vestiges of his internationally-known Peter Parker persona.  Portman continues to prove that she is one of the best actresses under 30 in Hollywood, and Gyllenhall is amazing as Tommy, a lost soul who finally finds meaning in his life only to have it torn asunder with one knock on the door.  And I must also mention that the two very young actresses who play Sam’s daughters, Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare, are tremendous.

Perhaps the reason that most modern-day war films don’t find an audience is because their theme hits a little too close to home.  But that is what makes Brothers such an outstanding film:  it spares nothing, glosses over nothing.  Kudos to director Jim Sheridan and the cast of actors, who didn’t hit one non-genuine known through the entire film.

4 ½ / 5 stars

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