Sam Cahill (Maguire) returns from being held as a prisoner-of-war in Afghanistan to find that his ex-con brother (Gyllenhaal) has become the man, of sorts, of the household where Sam's wife, Grace (Portman) had been living under the assumption that she was a widow.
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While at times the film treads into the melodrama with predictable sappy dialogue, Brothers is still a captivating film with talented actors who provide some emotional and touching scenes that are at times hard to watch. The premise is simple: a man goes off to war and is presumed dead while his wife grieves in the arms of another man. However, the strong performances and gripping emotional moments keep Brothers feeling fresh and engaging.
Sam Cahill (Maguire) is the straight edge all American brother in comparison to Tommy (Gyllenhaal) the black sheep of the family who at the beginning of the film is just released from prison after armed robbery. At the same time, Sam departs for Afghanistan leaving behind two kids and a sadden wife, Grace (Portman). While gone, Grace finds comfort in Tommy who steps up his role as uncle and helps to support his family, coming into the role as father, a role he never thought he could do.
Meanwhile Sam is reported to have been killed in combat and when the news travels back home, Grace and Tommy mourn together bonding over Samís supposed death. Their bonding leads to a passionate kiss, and although they immediately regret it, they remain close with Tommy continuing as a substitute father to Isabelle and Maggie. Itís no surprise to learn that Sam is alive and well living as a prisoner held captive by Taliban fighters. Eventually Sam is rescued and returns home, however, his experience has left him emotionally damaged.
Tobey Maguire is frighteningly convincing as a man unable to adapt to home life after his experiences have left him emotionally distant from his family. He begins to suspect Tommy and Grace of being intimate while he was gone, prompting his paranoia to feed into his fractured mind. Maguire completely gives himself to the role and gives one of his best performances since playing the short tempered jockey in Seabiscuit. Maguireís wide innocent eyes are changed into haunting gazes closely watching his family is uneasy suspicion and paranoia.
Portman is effective as the wife trying to prevent her sadness from consuming her. She allows her responsibilities as a mother to hide her underlying misery. Gyllenhaal is also great as a misfit who finds he is a natural at fatherhood, coming into the role with ease. Their scenes together provide for some nice moments that feel genuine, but when Maguire returns the tone becomes more melodramatic with certain scenes playing out like a daytime soap opera. But again, the performances from the talented cast is compelling enough that it makes up for the overly sentimental scenes.
Sheridan does a fine job creating a tense atmosphere which mostly derives from Maguireís intense brooding character as well as the bleak imagery. The cold, grey environment adds a sense of despair and loneliness that is effectively conveyed throughout the film leading to an explosive climax at the dinner table. That scene is reason alone to see this film because it is a sensational and sterling payoff, exactly the direction the film needed to follow.
The dinner scene is the most gripping moment in the film as Sam becomes enraged by his resentful daughter, Isabelle, who plays onto Samís paranoia. The awkward moment builds and builds until finally Sam snaps, pulls a gun on his brother, destroys the newly remolded kitchen, leading to cops being called in to subdue the situation. The film is heading to that moment and it works because Sheridan does an excellent job conveying the raw emotions with great editing that perfectly captures the scene as it unfolds.
Brothers is not perfect. But because of the solid performances and the focus of a functional family becoming dysfunctional, the film succeeds. However keep in mind that the movie is not so much about a love triangle, but rather the challenges a family is faced with when dealing with someone suffering from post traumatic stress. Portman and Gyllenhaal share a kiss, and that is the extent of their romance. The trailers are a bit misleading as they promote the film to seem like a love story gone wrong, and that is simply not the case. Itís better.