A family at war both at home and abroad
“SORRY sir, we've run out of Coke” may top many people's list of ‘Things You Don't Expect To Hear In The Cinema’, but those were the words I was greeted with in Galway Omniplex last Tuesday. But if that was a surprise, it paled in comparison to the shock of seeing Tobey Maguire as a US Marine in 'Brothers'.
Directed by our own Jim Sheridan (the man behind 'In America' and 'In The Name Of The Father'), 'Brothers' is a re-make of Susanne Bier's 2004 Danish drama. It tells the story of a family at war. Sam (Maguire) is a soldier and family man heading off for another tour of duty to Afghanistan. His brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal, in splendid form) is just out of jail, and fighting with his father Hank (Sam Shepard), another military man, who wishes Tommy could be more like his older sibling. Sam's wife Grace (the gorgeous Natalie Portman) brings a touch of glamour to proceedings.
After Sam is reported dead, Tommy lends Grace a hand, helps remodel her kitchen, and gets very close to the not-so-merry widow and her two daughters.
Henry VIII famously married his dead brother's wife, Catherine of Aragon, but we're not in Kansas (or 16th century England) any more. Besides, the growing relationship between Grace and Tommy is by no means the wildest thing that happens in the movie. The major twist is spoiled in the trailer – a growing trend, sadly; having watched the preview of 'The Crazies', I feel there's now no need to see the whole thing – but I won't give it away in these pages.
The script (by David Benioff) isn't bad. Hank, a strong silent type, tells Tommy that the difference between him and his brother is that 'Sam had no quit in him'. A drunken Tommy reqauests permission to touch a barman's nose because it looks like 'a lunar eclipse'. That's not a line I'll trying out in Westport any time soon.
Gyllenhaal is terrific, and the two kids (played by Bailee Madison and Taylor Grace Geare) both give fine performances. The difficulties of the soldier's lot in wartime, mentally tortured when away from the field of battle, are well sketched out. “Weird – it almost feels like home,” Sam confides upon returning to Afghanistan.
But we are definitely in melodrama territory here, and after the subtlety of 'Up In The Air', the straight lines sketched out in the plot of 'Brothers' take some getting used to. Clichés we can handle – Grace describes herself as one, the cheerleader who married the footballer. But the picture takes a couple of leaps in the latter stages as we veer into 'Full Metal Jacket' territory, and it's not always easy to buy it, particularly as Maguire is miscast.
While 'Brothers' is well shot, there's a lot of implied telepathy via a focus on the eyes of various characters. For a film that often leads its audience by the hand, this can get old. That said, given the number of times the exact nature of the relationship between Tommy and Sam is spelled out, we should perhaps be grateful that the closing credits appear to the sound of U2, rather than 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother'.
Worth seeing? Yes. In fact, my biggest regret of the evening is that, having realised I was in a cinema with no black stuff, I didn't shout at the top of my voice, à la Gabriel Byrne in 'The Usual Suspects': “There's no Coke”. But then Tobey had done enough screaming for both of us.
Rating 3 out of 5