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Brothers (2009)

December 7, 2009

4/10 Misleading Titles

Scratches the surface of getting through to some pretty serious issues, but it never quite gets to where it wants to be.

Brothers is about a Marine who gets shipped off to Afghanistan and is presumed dead after his helicopter crashes over enemy lines. So the U.S. Military jumps the gun and tells his wife that her husband’s dead, so the not-quite dead Marine’s ex-convict brother gets his act together and steps in to help his sister-in-law cope and to serve as a father figure for her two daughters. A couple months go by, turns out the older brother’s still alive, he comes back home to a life he no longer knows, and he goes crazy.

The thing is, this movie really isn’t about the relationship between these two brothers, nor is it about the so-called “affair” between the ex-con brother and his sister-in-law that’s alluded to so heavily in the trailer. Turns out, Brothers is actually about post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects those on the front lines and those at home.

Yup, that was one misleading trailer alright.

I was going into this expecting that I’d be writing a review later on about how the love triangle here is essentially the same one from Pearl Harbor, only without all the Japanese kamikaze attacks and such. And while I’m glad that it ended up being altogether different in this sense, there’s still not a whole lot going on here in regards to establishing a strong connection between the three main characters.

This one’s directed by Jim Sheridan, who’s done some freakin’ phenomenal movies in his time like My Left Foot and In The Name of the Father, but for some reason he signed up to do Get Rich or Die Tryin’ a couple years ago and it seems like the guy’s been slowly losing his touch ever since (maybe things would have gone better if Daniel-Day Lewis was playing 50 Cent instead). Right from the get-go, this movie felt rushed. The helicopter crash happens way to early on in the plot and by the time everyone thinks the guy is dead, the audience has hardly had any time to connect with the characters, so we really don’t have much of a reason to care about their grief, either. It took a good half-hour or so for me to get into the story after this horribly set up first Act, but even after that, it never really seems to find a good pace to settle on.

There are also a ton of scenes that felt like they were cut a minute or two short at their beginning or end, as though Sheridan up and assumed that we can already guess what happens next so there’s no real reason for us to actually have to see it, either. I don’t get when that happens in movies, but it’s never a good thing when it does.

The acting is also just so-so. Usually I like Jake Gyllenhaal, but he didn’t do much for me here as the ex-con brother, Tommy. Just seemed to be going through the motions. Same goes for Natalie Portman, who still hasn’t been as good as she was in The Professional back in ’94.

Look, Brothers pretty much has two things going for it. The first is Tobey Maguire as the Marine brother, Sam. Though Maguire has never exactly struck me as the military type, and the fact that he’s at an all-time skinny here doesn’t help this image much either, in a cast that seems to be faking it ’til they make it, Tobey ends up being the stand out. It takes a bit for the script and the audience to realize it, but the movie ends up being about him and his role quickly turns into a pretty demanding one as his character goes through some pretty hairy shit as a P.O.W. in Afghanistan and as a shell-shocked ghost of a father/husband back at home afterwards. Pretty good stuff. Forgot he was Peter Parker for a minute there.

The other thing Brothers does moderately well is the way it handles P.T.S.D. as it slowly pushes the issue to the forefront of the overall story. Not only is it the most pertinent aspect of the script, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than the other ambiguous and absurd romantics going on back at the home front. But like I said, it scratches at the surface of getting to the heart of the matter a couple of times, only to be bogged down by one overdramatic scene after another in lieu of subtly getting the point across.

As a result, a lot of the emotion here that could have felt genuine ends up feeling fake. It doesn’t feel like real life, it feels like Hollywood, and that takes a way a lot.

But what I don’t understand is that when Sam starts accusing his brother and his wife of fooling around, there isn’t one moment where they decide to clear everything up once and for all by saying, “No, Sam. We didn’t have sex.” Even when he starts waving a gun around, threatening to kill everyone in sight, they just stand by on the sidelines without saying the one thing that probably would have stopped him from picking up the gun in the first place. What gives?

Totally ridiculous.

It also wraps up with this anti-climactic non-ending that doesn’t really bring any closure to the story. Could have been a saving grace, but alas…

Anyway, I still need to get around to seeing the original Danish movie that this was based on, because I’m betting it does things a lot better. Brothers isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just sloppy. There are a couple times where I thought it was really onto something, but ultimately, everything this movie has to say about P.T.S.D. is actually said just as well in The Hurt Locker – a much better war drama that came out this year that probably, and unfortunately, won’t get as many viewers as this movie will. I don’t know if it was the script, the director, the cast, or what, but something went wrong here and it could have gone very right.

Man, sometimes movies just need to settle down and take their time. Less yelling would be a good start; use your inside voices. Just a thought.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2009 7:37 pm

    What a weird body of work Linklater has. But too bad this doesn’t live up the hype.

    • December 7, 2009 11:55 pm

      lol, I wouldn’t know. Will look into it though. I hear he’s done some good stuff.

  2. December 8, 2009 2:54 pm

    The trailer doesn’t do it any favors, but in comparison the film is good. The performances make up for the blunders in the storyline.

    • December 8, 2009 3:35 pm

      Yeah, that trailer was awful. Can’t say I agree though, Tobey was solid, everything else not so much. Still gotta see the original.

  3. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    December 8, 2009 5:52 pm

    You’re right about the trailer — totally and willfully misleading.

    However, unlike you I ended up liking the movie I saw even though it wasn’t the one I was expecting. I suspect it can’t stack up to the original Danish movie, but I think Jake Gyllenhaal did some great, subtle work and Bailee Madison is a phenomenal find as Isabelle. Plus, I’ve got to hand it to Tobey Maguire for going all-out. Never thought I’d say this, but short little Spidey can be one scary bug-eyed dude. And I’d agree with James Berardinelli that the film ends on what he calls “a well-earned note of hope.”


  1. The Large Association of Movie Blogs | LAMBScores: Brothers

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